Bath could soon follow in the footsteps of Brunswick and Portland by enacting a citywide mask mandate for indoor public spaces to help quell the spread of COVID-19.

City councilors will consider enacting an emergency ordinance that would require everyone ages 2 and older to wear a face mask in indoor public spaces during a special meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 19. At least six councilors would need to vote in favor of the ordinance, which would remain in effect for 60 days, at which point city councilors could decide to renew the rule, adjust it or drop it.

According to the proposed mandate, people would be required to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth in public spaces such as stores, public transportation, and restaurants except when people are actively eating and drinking in an “isolated location such as a table or booth” away from others. People would need to put their mask on when they’re finished eating or drinking and when they move from their table or booth.

Violating the rule would be considered a civil violation subject to a $500 fine. Anyone who refuses to put on a mask when asked would be forced to leave the space. The proposed ordinance also authorizes the Bath police department to enforce the rule.

Exceptions to the rule would include private homes, offices spaces where people are separated from the public, as well as sections of gyms, theaters and athletic arenas where those exercising or performing have been fully vaccinated and remain physically separated from others, or there’s a ventilation system or barrier between them and the public, according to the proposed rule.

Public schools would also be excluded from the rule as they remain under the authority of Regional School Unit 1. Masks are currently required indoors at all RSU 1 schools.

Advertisement

Other exceptions include people under the age of 2 and those with breathing problems or a medical condition that’s worsened by a face mask. People also don’t have to wear a face mask when they’re alone in a building.

Anyone in a business that requires proof of vaccination to enter also isn’t required to wear a face mask, according to the draft rule.

On Jan. 10, Bath began requiring people ages 2 years old to wear a mask in municipal buildings, regardless of vaccination status, according to the city’s website.

Councilor Elizabeth Dingley informally floated the idea of an indoor mask mandate during the council’s Jan. 5 meeting because, “We have a large senior population in Bath who are extremely vulnerable to this virus and it’s not safe.”

“The CDC says we should be wearing masks,” Dingley said to councilors. “I’ve been through several retail stores in Bath lately where nobody was wearing a mask except for the employees. People are just not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Most councilors agreed a mask mandate should be discussed, but some worried whether the requirement would force business owners and employees to police patrons.

Advertisement

Councilor Vice Chair Jennifer DeChant, who owns Bath Sweet Shoppe on Centre Street, said she has noticed more customers wearing masks as cases have increased recently, but a mask mandate would aid business owners in requiring masks for those who wouldn’t otherwise wear a mask.

“No mask mandate is going to be perfect, popular, or easily enforced, but there are no reasons to avoid it,” Councilor Roo Dunn said during the Jan. 5 meeting. “We have to be willing to do things that are hard and unpopular … for the greater good of everybody who lives, works and visits Bath.”

Though several councilors supported the idea for a mask mandate, an ordinance hadn’t yet been drafted, so the council had nothing to vote on and had to hold their conversation for their Jan. 19 special meeting.

Mockingbird Bookshop Owner Terri Schurz said she’d be in favor of a citywide mask mandate, but said it likely wouldn’t change much for her Front Street store. While she doesn’t require customers to wear a face mask while shopping, Schurz said she does encourage it, and estimated about 90% of people who enter the store wear a mask without being asked.

“It feels like people are pretty conscious of making others feel comfortable and keeping their safety in mind,” said Schurz. “I know things are changing fast with the Omicron variant, and we want to protect our community. If a mask mandate does that, I think that’s good. We care about the health of everybody first and foremost.”

Like Schurz, Jesse Weyl, owner of Bath Natural Market on Centre Street, said he’s endorsed a mask mandate in Bath to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Weyl said he “strongly encourages” his customers to wear a mask while shopping and said “over 90%” comply.

Advertisement

“If wearing a mask inside, even if it’s for the 10 or 15 minutes you’re shopping in my store, makes a positive impact at all … I think it’s necessary to get us past what’s happening because we know masks are effective,” said Weyl.

Though he’s in favor of a citywide mask mandate, Weyl said he wouldn’t want his employees to be tasked with confronting any customers who refuse to wear a mask in his store.

“Whether there’s a mandate in place, I’m not going to ask my employees to be any kind of mask enforcement. Tensions are heightened, people are tired, and I don’t have the resources or desire to enforce any sort of mask requirement.”

If Bath city councilors approve the proposed mandate on Wednesday, Bath will join Brunswick and Portland, both of which began requiring masks in public buildings earlier this month.

Portland city councilors unanimously approved a citywide mask requirement for public buildings on Jan. 3. Brunswick town councilors shortly followed suit and unanimously approved a mask mandate for indoor public spaces, based on Portland’s rules, later that week.

Bath’s discussion will come in the wake of weeks of increasing COVID-19 cases across the state, which prompted Gov. Janet Mills to deploy 169 Maine Army National Guard members to 16 hospitals and health care facilities across the state on Friday.

Advertisement

As of Friday, Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick was treating 16 inpatients for COVID-19, five of whom were on a ventilator, according to hospital spokesperson Judy Kelsh. Since the pandemic reached Maine in March 2020, Mid Coast Hospital has treated 419 patients for COVID-19.

Since March 2020, 3,692 people have tested positive for COVID-19 through Mid Coast Hospital, though 975 of those have come in the weeks sense Dec. 23, 2021, according to Kelsh.

Kelsh said Mid Coast Hospital would supports enforcing a mask mandate to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the southern Midcoast.

“Given the significant rise of COVID-19 in the community due to the highly contagious nature of the Omicron variant, masking in indoor public spaces will help bend the curve of transmission and help to alleviate the burden that the healthcare system is currently experiencing,” said Kelsh.

As of Friday, Jan. 14, Maine’s 7-day new case average was 1046, towering above the state’s 7-day new case average from Nov. 14, which hung at 482 case, according to state data.

Since the start of the pandemic, 3,235 people in Sagadahoc County have tested positive for COVID-19 and 23 have died as of Friday, according to the Maine CDC.

Statewide, 159,498 Mainers have tested positive and 1,644 have died since March 2020, according to the Maine CDC.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.