Two shoppers walk down Front Street in Bath while wearing masks on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Bath’s mask mandate for indoor public spaces went into effect on Monday, Jan. 24. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Bath business owners say most of their customers are complying with the city’s indoor masking mandate that went into effect Monday to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Ruth Van Kamben, manager at Loyal Biscuit Co., said most customers at the pet supply store are “enthusiastic” about the mask requirement, but not everyone has been compliant.

“This morning we had one customer refuse to wear one and just pulled their scarf up over their nose,” said Van Kamben. “It’s a tough line to walk because you want people to wear one and we provide masks at the door.”

Van Kamben said she reminds unmasked customers they can order products online or over the phone, but if they’re already in line to check out, “we just try to get them out as soon as possible.”

Van Kamben said she’s glad the mandate is in place because it takes the responsibility out of her hands, but “it caused some anxiety knowing it was coming and we’d have to enforce it.”

Bath city councilors voted unanimously to enact the emergency mandate during a special meeting on Jan. 19 to help quell the spread of COVID-19. The rule went into effect on Jan. 24 and will last 60 days, but councilors agreed to re-evaluate the rule and how the pandemic has progressed after 30 days.

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Bath’s mandate, like policies from Portland, Brunswick, Freeport and South Portland, requires everyone age 2 and older wear a face covering over their nose and mouth in public spaces, regardless of vaccination status.

Examples of public spaces include 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, regardless of vaccination status. People need to put their mask on when they’re finished eating or drinking and when they move from their table or booth.

A sign requiring masks inside hangs at the entrance of the Mockingbird Bookshop on Front Street in Bath. Bath’s mask mandate, which began on Jan. 24, requires people to wear masks inside public spaces. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Rowan Wagner, who co-owns J.R. Maxwell with Edwin Rogers, said he feels “indifferent” about the mandate because “it’s what has to be done.”

Wagner’s customers, on the other hand, have had mixed feelings. Most customers have worn one without issue, he said, though some have been confused about when they need to wear one and when they can remove it.

In the restaurant’s downstairs bar, however, some customers haven’t been pleased about the indoor mask rule, though it hasn’t escalated to any sort of altercation.

“In the downstairs bar, people have been a little feistier about it,” said Wagner. “It’s a different vibe down there and not everyone is in favor of it. We’ve had a couple people say, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ but it’s not up for debate, just like you can’t smoke inside.”

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Bath’s mandate authorizes the city’s health official and the Bath police department to help enforce the rule if someone refuses to wear a mask or leave a space, but Bath Police Chief Andrew Booth said the department hasn’t received any calls regarding the rule.

“Scott Davis, our codes and health officer, has received just a few complaints, as far as I know, but nothing serious,” Booth said. “There were a lot of angry comments back and forth on our Facebook posts over the weekend, but that hasn’t resulted in anything in person. So far, most people are cooperating.”

Before councilors approved the mask rule, some business owners advocated against it because they feared young employees would be forced to uphold it and be faced with resistant customers. Others worried the mandate would make those unwilling to wear a mask shop or eat elsewhere.

At Mockingbird Bookshop, owner Terri Schurz said she hasn’t seen any pushback about the mask requirement from patrons. She said most customers walk through the door already wearing one. So far, she hasn’t had anyone refuse to wear a mask.

“I don’t think it was ever an issue or concern for me in this shop in particular,” said Schurts. “People have been kind and courteous about wearing masks. I think the safety and health of our staff, family and community is important, and it seems like wearing masks is critical right now, so having a mandate doesn’t hurt.”

Exceptions to Bath’s mask rule include private homes, office spaces where people are separated from the public, churches or other houses of worship, and public schools, as they remain under the authority of Regional School Unit 1. Masks are currently required indoors at all RSU 1 schools.

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, 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. People also don’t have to wear a face mask when they’re alone in a building.

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