The New Gloucester Selectboard took no action on the mask resolution introduced by Selectperson Linda Chase, top right. At one point, upwards of 70 citizens joined the virtual meeting held over Zoom. Screenshot

New Gloucester Selectmen took no action this week on an anti-mask resolution that questioned the constitutionality of Gov. Janet Mills’ executive orders requiring face coverings in public settings.

The majority of the 70 people tuning into the meeting who spoke opposed the anti-mask measure, with one, New Gloucester resident and South Portland City Manager Scott Morrelli, saying it was an “ignorant” and “irresponsible” resolution.

Vice Chairperson Linda Chase sponsored the resolution, which is word-for-word almost identical to a resolution introduced by Androscoggin County Commissioner Isaiah Lary in February, be put on Monday night’s agenda.

The four-page preamble begins with a declaration that “there is scant scientific evidence to date that cloth masks prevent the spread of COVID-19 despite the fact that cloth mask use is quite common, yet infection rates are still high.”

A number of scientific studies conducted and cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, National Institutes of Health and other medical research institutions across the country have found that wearing a multi-layer cloth mask dramatically reduces the risk of infection to both the mask-wearer and those surrounding them.

The aim of the resolution is to prohibit town officials from enforcing the Mills administration’s executive orders regarding the pandemic and the use of “town funds, personnel or equipment” to do so.

Chase did not elaborate on her decision to introduce the resolution, but said Monday night that she is “not necessarily saying I’m against or for mask mandates. What I’m saying is that there should be cases where if you choose not to wear a mask you don’t have to.”

Chase did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“I wear a mask all day at work and would continue,” said Chase, who owns Trusted Souls Adult Day Care Center.

A spokesperson from the Maine Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday referred to Attorney General Aaron Frey’s letter to the Androscoggin County Commissioners for the office’s response to the resolution.

“To the extent that this resolution is premised on the notion that the Executive Orders are not constitutional, I want to assure you, as Maine’s chief law enforcement officer, that the Executive Orders are constitutional,” and enforceable through civil and criminal processes,” Attorney General Aaron Frey wrote.

“Also, counties, municipalities and other political subdivisions have no authority to exempt themselves from Executive Orders, and any effort to do so would be of no legal effect.”

The majority of the public who spoke at the online meeting expressed dismay at and opposition to the resolution.

“In my 16 years of municipal government, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything as irresponsible or ignorant as this resolution,” Morelli told the selectboard. “Residents shouldn’t have to worry that their elected leaders are taking a politics-over-people approach and declaring that they know more than health officials.”

Patricia Morris called the resolution a “manifesto” and Sarah Gusky Kemer said it is “incredibly callous” to talk about “people dying for the freedom of our country but not talking about the 500,000-plus who died from COVID.”

Among a number of other debunked claims, the resolution claims that “the coronavirus is so small” that only masks such as the N95, which are “suffocatingly tight and require fit testing” can prevent transmission.

Diana Dowd, an adjunct professor of microbiology at University of New England, said that misinformation is “hurting people.”

Chase had some supporters, however. Dorene Libby, a nursing student at Central Maine Community College, said that she “believes in this resolution.”

Caleb Dunn said “it’s insulting to me how quickly the maskers are willing to give up their individual rights.”

The resolution was tabled until an as of yet undetermined date.

“I am a nurse, I do believe in science,” said Chairperson Karen Gilles. “I have personally experienced loss from COVID, but I’m also equally frustrated with how things are going so I can see every side.”

Selectman Peter Bragdon said in an email Monday that,“while I have my strong opinions on masks, the Selectboard meeting is not the place for it.”

Selectman Tammy Donovan was absent from the meeting.

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