WATERVILLE — It wasn’t the first time City Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, scolded his peers for not wearing face coverings at a meeting.

Francke attended Tuesday night’s council meeting virtually, from home. When he appeared on a large screen in the Mid-Day Cafe at Mid-Maine Technical Center where four councilors met in person, Francke was wearing a mask to make a point. He removed it after chastising councilors and others in the room.

Councilors Flavia Oliveira, D-Ward 2, and Meg Smith, D-Ward 3, also attended virtually and were visible on the screen, but Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, and Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, sat at separate tables in the meeting room, spaced a few feet from each other. City Manager Michael Roy, City Clerk Patti Dubois and Mayor Nick Isgro also sat at separate tables.

Waterville City Councilor Claude Francke, who attended Tuesday’s meeting virtually, encouraged his fellow councilors who attended the meeting in person to wear their masks. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel screenshot

Sitting in the audience, at chairs spaced apart, were Fire Chief Shawn Esler, City Finance Director Aaron Berls, police Chief Joseph Massey, and Chad Smith, who was live-streaming the meeting.

While some in the room brought masks, none were wearing them, though Deputy City Clerk Sarah Cross wore one when she escorted speakers into the room from the corridor. Several speakers wore masks; others did not.

Tuesday’s council agenda stipulated that people may attend the meeting in person, but the session also would be live-streamed for those watching remotely.

“Attendees are asked to adhere to health & safety guidelines requiring social distancing, face coverings and a 50 person gathering limit,” the agenda says.

Francke sponsored a resolution on the agenda urging businesses to encourage customers and employees to use face coverings. The council approved his resolution in a 4-3 vote with Morris, Mayhew and Foss dissenting.

The resolution says it is important to wear face coverings as people begin to interact more and more. Doing so can slow the spread of COVID-19, protect the health and safety of those around us and allow the economy to reopen safely, it says.

It may be inconvenient for some, but the simple gesture of wearing a face covering is a “small price to pay for knowing you could save someone’s life,” the resolution says.

Foss was the first to speak against supporting the resolution.

“I believe that people at this stage in COVID are smart enough to make their own decisions for their own health,” he said. “I’m not on board with this.”

Francke said it is “crucially important” to wear a mask to keep Waterville as safe as it has been so far. He said he was talking, not only to people like Foss, “who is heedless of the virus,” but to kids who will need to wear masks when they go back to school.

“It’s important for the parents and us adults to act like adults and put that mask on,” Francke said.

But Isgro said he had spent the last 48 hours researching the mask issue and it had been very difficult to come up with controlled studies done on masks. Wearing a cloth mask could have “zero effect,” he said.

“There is a lot of conflicting medical evidence, particularly with the cloth masks,” Isgro said.

He said if an N-95 mask is worn correctly, it can reduce particles coming into the mask, but if worn incorrectly, it could be dangerous. He disputed Francke’s claim that children will need to wear masks when they return to school.

“In any event, I don’t know that all kids are going to be wearing masks,” Isgro said. “I think a lot of parents won’t be putting kids in masks. I won’t be. I think at this point, let business owners do what they want and let the public and business owners, through mutual respect, I think, come to those determinations for themselves. That’s my opinion.”

Francke reiterated that adults should be the ones guiding children on the issue.

“It’s time that we let our children — your children should know that mask-wearing is important, irrespective of the so-called students that you talk about,” he said.

Epidemiologists say people should wear masks, according to Francke.

“I, quite frankly, think that we need to get Waterville on board and start treating the pandemic seriously,” he said.

Mayhew said he understands the essence of the issue. The majority of hospitality businesses practice the guidelines and wear masks, he said. It is a business person’s decision, and small businesses have been doing a commendable job.

Morris said he is not a “strict mask-wearer,” but carries one when he goes to businesses that ask people to wear them.

“I will absolutely mask up, when it’s required,” he said.

Isgro said there are times he wears a mask, such as when he goes to the doctor or to work.

“I don’t know it’s our job to tell people what they have to do.”

Thomas said he resisted wearing a mask at first. Wearing one is not to protect the wearer, but to protect the people working at businesses, and that is the least one can do, he said. The resolution does not require businesses to encourage people to wear masks — it recommends it, according to Thomas. He said he was happy to vote in support of it.

Francke’s resolution quotes Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention: “Research shows that face coverings help limit potential transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. Wearing a face covering in public places where physical distancing is difficult shows respect for others and reduces the risk that the virus could spread as more people move about Maine.”

Waterville is a service center with large retail businesses, restaurants, outdoor bars, tasting rooms and lodging establishments, according to the resolution. One of the duties of the City Council is to protect public health and safety, it says. It asks the council to urge those businesses to comply with Gov. Janet Mills’ face covering order as a matter of public health and further encourage all businesses to request that customers and employees use face coverings.

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