ROCKLAND – An order requiring face coverings to be worn outdoors in the public areas of Rockland is being redrafted and added to the July 6 agenda-setting meeting of Rockland City Council.
Council had intended to vote on the executive order during a June 22 meeting, held on Zoom and livestreamed. However, some councilors expressed different interpretations of the mask proposal, and others waffled between opposing opinions.
The language of the order presented, is as follows:
ORDER Requiring the Wearing of Masks or Face Coverings
THAT in accordance with Executive Orders issued by Governor Janet Mills and guidelines from the Maine CDC, all persons shall be required to wear a mask or other face covering while in any public space or other places of gathering within the City of Rockland until such time as the Civil State of Emergency has been lifted.
Though the initial intent of the order was to force employees of businesses to wear masks if they are using Rockland’s public parks and roadways, the order language does not specify businesses, employees, or City-authorized contracts for the use of parks and open space.
Councilor Valli Geiger sponsored the order after hearing multiple concerns regarding at least one Rockland restaurant where none of the servers wore masks. One of the restaurants obtains annually City permission to serve diners on city-owned park space.
“I’m wondering if we can create an ordinance that just says ‘if you use our public space, the employees will be masked,” she said. “If you have employees that cannot wear masks, than let them work in the kitchen.’”
Councilor Nate Davis interpreted the order to mean anyone walking alone on a City street must also wear a face covering. Though he supports coverings when social distancing is not an option, he stated reluctance of enforcing a law when no one else is around.
Geiger agreed with this sentiment, stating that she, too, is quick to remove her mask once she’s outside and away from others. Yet, she also spoke for the residents who refuse to go downtown due to fears for their health. According to her, those people feel safer in Portland where every employee and almost every person is masked.
Councilor Ed Glaser wanted to keep the order from being “watered down.”
He stated a desire to see everyone wearing masks when outside in public, and referenced seeing many people not wearing coverings at Friday evening’s Main Street closure.
“Half of the states in the United States right now are seeing borderline record numbers of people coming down with the coronavirus,” said Glaser. “Yes, we are very fortunate in Maine to have the numbers going down. But that’s no reason to sit there are say, ‘Oh, we’re better than everybody else.’ I think we all have to wear masks, and this is a tool to make us all wear masks.”
One idea is to narrow the order to anyone walking on downtown Main Street. Either way, the question of enforcement must also be defined. Councilor Ben Dorr mentioned that many people don’t have face coverings. Many are poor and can’t afford them.
“I’m not in a position where I feel like we should be giving people tickets because they are poor,” he said.
Enforcement, at least in the beginning, may come down to simple education or providing the necessary items. When Council asked how the police would respond, Police Chief Chris Young said he’d have to consult with the Attorney General’s office for guidance.
As for the businesses, City Manager Tom Luttrell said that the agreement with the City for use of a public space (park, road, sidewalk) that has the language “compliance of law” can be enforced already.
“Any executive order from the governor is law,” he said. “So they need to follow anything that the governor is saying.”
Luttrell stated, however, that there are certain procedures that Council must go through before it can “do certain things.”
Of the overall order, Geiger said: “It’s a little more sweeping than I was expecting, but I don’t think it’s wrong. I think this is the current expectation of both the governor and the Maine CDC.”