City Council Adopts Emergency Ordinance to Fight Covid-19

On Thursday, September 10, the City Council voted unanimously to adopt a 90-day emergency ordinance to alleviate community spread of Covid-19 by strengthening the state’s face covering law and increasing enforcement.

The ordinance, which was drafted by City Manager Steven Buck and the city’s attorney based on existing emergency ordinances and the Governor’s Executive Orders, requires individuals to wear cloth or disposable face coverings “properly worn over the nose and mouth” in public settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained. “Public settings” is defined in the ordinance, and includes indoor settings like stores and health care facilities; outdoor spaces including playgrounds and takeout lines; and public transportation including taxis, Uber and buses.

The ordinance further mandates businesses of all sizes, which are accessible to the public, to post readily visible signs notifying customers of the face covering requirement; and allows them to deny entry or service to a person who doesn’t comply, and who is not otherwise exempt from doing so.

The ordinance is also applicable to indoor and outdoor gatherings. Gatherings are defined to include community, civic, public, leisure and faith-based events; social clubs; sporting events with spectators; and more.

Mr. Buck told the Council that he had spoken directly with Dr. Nirav Shah, director of Maine CDC, on Wednesday, about the ordinance. Dr. Shah reiterated what he has said many times in his press briefings – that the wearing of face coverings has been proven by research to be the most effective means of containing the spread of the virus.

The Police Department is authorized under the ordinance to enforce the use of face coverings. Enforcement would begin with the issuance of a warning, and could escalate to a minimum fine of $100, suspension of a business license or closure of a business.

Members of the public wishing to report violations at local businesses should use the York County Community Action hotline phone number, which is 206-1295, or email keepmehealthy@yccac.org. A Health Educator will visit the business and offer PPE and information. If the violations continue, the Police Department will be notified.

Police Chief Thomas Connolly stated that the Department would follow up on all reports of violations, but that responding to crimes and emergency calls would be a greater priority.

Council members discussed both the purpose and details of the ordinance at length. Mayor Tom Cote stated that the ordinance was needed because the statistics show that York County is trending toward red in the state’s color-coding system. A red designation would mean that the Department of Education would recommend schools be closed.

Councilor Bob Stackpole pointed out that “no shirt, no shoes, no service” has long been a mantra for businesses, and that “no mask, no service” should not be viewed any differently.

Councilor Luke Lanigan expressed concern that the ordinance, while necessary, might be harmful to local businesses, and recommended setting lower fines. He advocating for revisiting the ordinance frequently to amend it, and overturn it as soon as it is no longer necessary. Mayor Cote agreed that the ordinance should be repealed as soon as the crisis is past, but thought the Public Safety Subcommittee should be the ones to make that determination.

Councilor Ayn Hanselmann recommended that the Subcommittee begin meeting weekly to monitor the situation. She said she would like businesses to be able to reach out for assistance if they are having trouble getting customers to comply with the face covering requirement. Councilors John Tuttle and Joseph Hanslip, also members of the Public Safety Subcommittee, agreed that weekly meetings are a good idea. “We should err on the side of safety,” said Councilor Tuttle.

You can watch the video of the complete meeting here.

The full text of the ordinance is here.

Image by Juraj Varga from Pixabay