The Portland City Council stopped short Monday of requiring everyone to wear masks in public, but has mandated employees wear masks when interacting with customers beginning Thursday. Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND — The city’s emergency stay-at-home order has been extended to May 18, but the council Monday made a few amendments to its mandates as it takes “baby steps” to reopen the economy.

As of Thursday, April 30, workers must wear protective masks when dealing with the public. Employers must provide masks to their workers who interact with customers and other members of the public if the employees do not have their own.

The City Council also eased restrictions on nonessential businesses, allowing them to now offer no-contact delivery and curbside pickup. It said gun shops are no longer considered an essential business and it aligned local construction activity with state emergency regulations.

Additional changes could come when councilors meet Monday, May 4, depending on a statewide reopening plan Gov. Janet Mills was expected to give Tuesday.

Although councilors unanimously approved extending the order, they were divided on Councilor Spencer Thibodeau’s proposal to require all workers in the city to wear masks when dealing with the public, except when it is medically or occupationally unsafe to do so or when the employee can maintain 6 feet of distance from others.

Thibodeau said the logic of wearing a mask out in public is simple.

“My mask protects you. Your mask protects me,” he said.

Councilor Belinda Ray, who, along with Councilors Kimberly Cook, Pious Ali and Justin Costa, rejected Thibodeau’s proposal, said she was conflicted on how effective mask wearing is on curbing the spread of the virus. She said she wears a mask out in public because it “makes others feel comfortable, not because of its efficacy.”

Health organizations, she said, are not in agreement on whether people should be wearing homemade masks. The Maine Center for Disease Control and federal Centers for Disease Control recommends masks, but the World Health Organization, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine don’t recommend individuals wear homemade masks.

Cook said she wanted to hear more from the city’s public heath division about the pros and cons of wearing a mask before she was comfortable with the mandate.

Costa said he feared requiring a mask for certain employees but not others and not having clear language about the materials for the masks or who would provide them would “lead to greater confusion for the public.”

Councilor Nick Mavodones called requiring employees to wear a mask a “prudent move.”

The mask measure was approved 5-4.

The council was far more united in allowing nonessential businesses to offer their products for pickup or delivery, much like restaurants are doing, as long as there is no physical contact with customers. Nonessential business had originally been banned from such activity, but after a pushback from the business community April 17, the council allowed it on a temporary basis.

Ray, who along with Cook asked the council to make that change part of its emergency order extension, said it does not mean nonessential businesses can reopen to the public or be exempt from social distancing and other CDC guidelines. Cook said relaxing the rules would allow businesses such as fabric stores to offer materials to the public to create masks.

Costa said he sees this as a small step toward getting the economy back up and running.

“This shows were are taking baby steps on looking at how we are beginning to move into some sort of reopening of the economy,” he said.

Mavodones said he supported the nonessential business measure, but had some trepidation because of enforcement. City Manager Jon Jennings said it is unrealistic for city staff or police to enforce it and it will have to be complaint based.

“We are trying to respond to complaints to the best of our ability,” he said.

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