A Gorham councilman is calling for the town to declare itself open for business in spite of state regulations closing or limiting economic activity during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ben Hartwell, who authored a resolution slated for discussion on Tuesday, says the state has successfully “flattened the curve” of coronavirus hospitalizations, but has not given enough attention to the health of its small businesses.

“I don’t think that the consequence of putting people out of business justifies the lockdown,” Hartwell said in a phone interview Sunday.

Though Maine saw flattening or decreasing hospitalizations though much of May, those figures rebounded over the past week in a resurgence seemingly unrelated to the recent testing expansion and gradual lifting of restrictions.

Maine’s hospital admissions rose to 60 on May 25, as individual hospitals reached peaks not seen since early April. Numbers dipped over the weekend, to 46 admissions on Saturday and 49 on Sunday.

Public health officials have cautioned that sweeping restrictions on public gathering and economic activity are necessary because even healthy people who take reasonable precautions can catch the virus and pass it on. Somewhere along the chain, an at-risk person could contract COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and develop a life-threatening case.


Because the virus spreads exponentially – one person might pass it to three people, each of whom passes it to another three – even a disease with low fatality rates such as COVID-19 can wreak havoc and overwhelm health systems if allowed to spread unchecked.

Eighty-nine people had died in Maine as of Sunday, disproportionately in long-term care communities, where many high-risk patients are clustered. There were 2,325 known cases across the state.

Still, Hartwell says, business owners should be able to make their own decisions about how to balance health risks with economic considerations.

Hartwell said he had been inspired by a similar resolution in the city of Calais, whose council in mid-May voted to essentially reject Gov. Janet Mills’ pandemic restrictions and allow all businesses to open. Whether or not Calais’ or Hartwell’s resolution can actually supersede state lockdown orders is unclear; state officials still have the power to revoke business licenses for those who flout orders.

Another impetus for Hartwell’s proposal was the closure of a Gorham business, Grit & Grace CrossFit, which cited pressure from the pandemic and accompanying restrictions as it shut down in May, he said.

“That was what made me decide to say that I can’t just sit here and do nothing,” Hartwell said. “I don’t like one-size-fits-all approaches when these decisions and these exact precautions can be and should be decided by the people directly affected.”

The town manager and council chairwoman did not respond to requests for information this weekend. The vice chairman of the Town Council, Ronald Shepard, declined to be interviewed, deferring to the chairwoman.

A spokesman for Maine Municipal Association, an organization supporting local governments throughout the state, said the group hasn’t adopted a position on resolutions of this nature. But broadly speaking, MMA is advising towns and cities to follow state health guidelines.

“Overall, on a wide variety of legal issues surrounding COVID 19, our Legal Services staff has advised members to follow guidelines set by the Governor and Maine CDC,” the spokesman, Eric Conrad, said in an email. “At our workplace, MMA is following guidelines set by the state.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: