It’s hard to believe that it has been six months since our lives were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic in America. We are proud that Brunswick was one of the first towns in Maine to respond quickly and implement protections for our community, balancing public health with economic health. The state of Maine soon followed with its own version of the order, which eventually replaced Brunswick’s initial rules.

Our community responded to the crisis with an outpouring of support for local businesses by buying take-out meals to support restaurants before dining out was an option, and even purchasing gift cards when food or merchandise was not available. These days the struggle for businesses continues, but another unnecessary challenge has emerged, and your favorite restaurants and shops need your help now more than ever.

In July, Gov. Mills issued Executive Order 2FY20/21, whereby the state of Maine requires businesses to ask customers to wear face coverings, a critical public health practice recommended by the CDC. Here in our town and across the state small businesses face the impossible responsibility of enforcing compliance with the Governor’s order that all customers wear masks. The alternative is to have that business’ license to practice revoked, forcing your neighbors out of work. This will devastate families that depend on their paychecks to put food on their tables and keep their lights on at home.

The recent outbreak in Millinocket is only the latest example of what happens when a business chooses not to enforce the mask mandate. One wrong decision by a business can reverberate throughout the region with tragic results. Guests did not adhere to safe practices like face coverings, COVID spread quickly, and in response the state swiftly revoked the license of a business for being out of compliance. There have now been almost 200 sicknesses, one death, a shuttered business, and people out of work – all because guests did not adhere to safe practices.

The Brunswick Town Council voted early on to require masks indoors, and fully supports the Governor’s decision to prescribe masks statewide because the public health benefits outweigh the brief inconvenience when you are shopping. It is no different than requiring shirts and shoes when you enter a store, or using seatbelts in a car. We also needed a statewide solution with clear direction, not a patchwork of municipal ordinances.

We understand there is frustration with the State mask mandate. Change can be uncomfortable at first. However, the stories of patrons verbally berating small business owners and their employees – or worse – because they ask customers to wear face coverings is flatly unacceptable in Brunswick.

Often the hourly workers that deal directly with customers are tasked with the hardest part of the job, face with the most confrontation, and right here in Brunswick are often subjected to rude, hostile patrons that take out their frustrations on the workers serving them.

Some local business owners have been pushed to the brink of financial ruin, forced to give away or destroy much of their retail stock or food product because their income has dropped by 70% compared to this time last year, or worse. Those that have been fortunate enough to see a small rebound in business are often unable to find or rehire enough workers to meet the demand of a public that is eager to return to normal. Understaffed and struggling to stay afloat, when customers arrive intent on defying the Executive Order and pressure the workers, that just might be enough to cause them to close their doors for good.

So out of kindness, we urge you: Do not enter a business with the expectation that you will not need to comply with the face-covering order. In restaurants, wear your mask when you leave your table. If you cannot comply, most businesses offer easy curbside pickup options. Please do not arrive expecting any business to make an exception for you, because you are asking them to make an impossible choice.

We don’t hear people complaining about being mandated to wear shirts and shoes in a store because of public health benefits. Businesses risk their operating licenses being revoked or fined if they do not comply with the State face-covering order, just as they would if they allowed people to enter their establishment not wearing shirt or shoes.

We ask you to please be patient with our local workers. They are your neighbors and friends, and we all call Brunswick home. Be kind to those that remind you of the state’s distancing and face-covering policies. Instead of feeling put out, please pause and instead offer words of encouragement and empathy for the position they are in. Thank them for finding a way to continue serving you. Otherwise, you are putting their business, and health, at risk.

Christopher Watkinson represents District 5 on the Brunswick Town Council. Toby McGrath represents District 6 on the Brunswick Town Council.

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