Brunswick councilors decided Monday not to require masks in all indoor public spaces.

The proposal, which was rejected 5-3, would have required that all private businesses open to the public require indoor masking, similar to a state mandate that ended in May.

Modeled after Portland’s proposed mandate, the rules would have applied to anyone 2 years of age or older, regardless of vaccination status. Exceptions were outlined for eating and drinking, places of worship and live performers.

Councilors Kate Foye, David Watson, Steve Walker, Christopher Watkinson and Dan Jenkins voted in opposition.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” Foye said. “The process itself is what concerns me, that there isn’t a clear process or mechanisms to support the town staff or the businesses in how we administer a citywide mandate on masks.”

Watkinson recalled conversations with business owners and employees about customers who would accost staff about not wanting to wear a mask during the previous mandate.

“It’s not something I’m really eager to jump back into, asking them to do again at this point,” Watkinson said. “I’m not saying it’s off the table, it very well may become necessary soon.”

Councilor Kathy Wilson, who sponsored the amendment, as well as Councilors John Perreault and Dan Ankles voted in favor.

“I will support it,” said Perreault. “I believe the good outweighs the bad in this.”

Wilson said her goal with the proposal was “to make things as safe as possible,” and that, in her experience “the majority of people will do what they’re supposed to do and it’s a small segment that argues and won’t wear masks.”

On Monday, The Portland Press Herald reported that COVID-19 hospitalizations in Maine are at a record high of 214, and on Tuesday reported that Maine surpassed 1,000 deaths from the virus.

Face coverings are still required in all Brunswick town-owned or leased buildings, as well as school buildings. Had Brunswick approved the expanded mandate, the town would have been the first municipality in Maine to impose such rules.

According to Brunswick Town Manager John Eldridge, the proposed penalty for an individual violating the mandate would have been a fine between $100 and $500.

While there was some discussion of extending the fee to noncompliant businesses, the proposal ultimately did not get that far. City councilors in Portland reached a 4-4 vote on a similar mask mandate, also on Monday. The deadlock means that the proposal did not pass but will return to a future agenda.

According to Wilcox Wellness and Fitness owner Alison Hopkins, she made masking mandatory at her gym about two weeks ago.

Hopkins said that the new rules were well received. Only a very small number of members decided not to come to the gym as a result of the mask rules, Hopkins said, and there was no hostility. There are around 140 members at the gym, and capacity for the largest session is 16.

“It’s so difficult because there is pros and cons, right? I mean, it’s a lot easier to enforce a rule than it is to make those decisions as a business owner,” said Hopkins when asked about the possibility of town-wide mandate. “When everyone is following the same rules it help create a more even playing field for businesses, and we can all be confident we are creating a safe environment for our customers or our clients.”

On the other hand, Hopkins said, there were some capacity rules that she felt were too strict during the earlier stages of the pandemic.

Little Dog Café owner Mason Palmatier said that the coffee shop has required masking for staff and patrons, regardless of vaccination status, since the beginning of the pandemic except for when customers are sitting down to eat.

“There’s been some instances of people not wanting to wear a mask, but most people are accommodating and understand what is going on in the world and in Brunswick,” Palmatier said.

Hannaford Supermarket, which has two locations in Brunswick, currently requires all associates working in substantial or high COVID-19 transmission zones — which includes Cumberland County — to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. Unvaccinated individuals outside of those zones are also required to mask.

“We would comply with any ordinance the Town of Brunswick passes,” said Hannaford External Communications Manager Ericka Dodge in an email.

As of Tuesday, 84,542 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in total statewide, resulting in 1,002 deaths. In Cumberland County, 19,524 cases have been reported and 216 deaths.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 73.6% of Maine residents had received a final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In Brunswick, it is estimated that 99% of eligible residents are vaccinated.

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