Portland City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau believes the new normal for Portland is to require workers who come into close contact with the public to wear face coverings or face masks.

City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau says, “Maine and this country will need to get used to the new normal, wearing face masks in public.”  Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Thibodeau says stronger measures must be taken to protect the health of such front-line employees – and the general public – at least for the foreseeable future or until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed.

That’s why he’s proposing an amendment to the city’s Emergency Stay at Home order to require any employee of an essential service – or a nonessential service involved with curbside pickup, shipping or delivery – to wear a mask or cloth face over his or her nose and mouth.

Thibodeau’s amendment, which would apply to grocery store, bank and convenience store workers, will be considered during Monday’s City Council meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

“I hope my proposal will protect those workers, who may be in a life-or-death situation,” Thibodeau said in a telephone interview Thursday night. “I think Maine and this country will need to get used to the new normal, wearing face masks in public.”

If Thibodeau’s amendment is adopted, it would take effect next Thursday. Other than the town of Brunswick, Thibodeau said he does not know of any other community in Maine that requires workers to wear face masks. Portland’s amendment would exempt any worker whose medical condition would be compromised by having to wear some type of covering.

The order approved by the Brunswick Town Council requires employees of grocery stores, banks, convenience stores and of any indoor, public-serving location to wear masks. The order takes effect at 7:30 a.m. Friday. Brunswick councilors debated, but did not take action, on a motion that would have required the general public to wear face masks or coverings inside public spaces.

Thibodeau’s amendment also would extend the face-covering requirement to nonessential business workers, a move he admits is more complicated and will depend on circumstances.

For example, if there are two people working in a bookstore, they should be required to wear face masks, Thibodeau said. Under the current city order, customers are not allowed inside a bookstore, but are allowed to pick up books they ordered that have been set outside on the curb for pickup.

“Those workers are just as much at risk as someone in a grocery store,” Thibodeau said.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said Thibodeau’s proposal is well thought out and one she could support, but she said Thursday night that it may need some tweaking. Snyder said smaller businesses, such as a bookstore or gift shop, present a situation that might need more discussion Monday night.

“If people can achieve physical distancing, I’d like to discuss whether wearing a mask would be essential,” Snyder said.

Snyder agrees with Thibodeau that a store like the Hannaford supermarket on Portland’s Back Cove would benefit from a face mask requirement. The mayor and Thibodeau said some Hannaford employees wear face coverings while others do not.

Eric Blom, Hannaford’s spokesman, could not be reached Thursday night, but he told The Times Record earlier this week that the supermarket chain is fully prepared to comply with the Brunswick order. Blom said the Brunswick Hannaford has masks and face shields available for all its workers.

Teresa Edington, a spokeswoman for Shaw’s, said the supermarket chain requires all of its employees to wear a face covering, whether it be masks provided by Shaw’s or alternative masks that the employee brings to work. All face masks worn by employees must cover their nose and mouth. There are Shaw’s supermarkets in Portland at the Northgate Shopping Center off Auburn Street and in the Westgate Shopping Center on outer Congress Street.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that cloth face coverings be worn in public settings such as a grocery store where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

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