GARDINER — Gardiner officials are considering tighter requirements in the city in a bid to clarify when and where masks should be worn.

Curtis Ayotte Contributed photo

But Curtis Ayotte, a city resident who was a 2014 Republican candidate for Maine House of Representatives District 83, has declared he is not following mask recommendations now and will not adhere to them in the future.

“Chief Toman, guess what? This is the profile you’re going to get because I’m not doing it,” Ayotte said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting that was aired over the Zoom video-conferencing platform and broadcast on Facebook Live.

“I wholeheartedly resist this,” Ayotte said, addressing his remarks to Gardiner Police Chief James Toman. “I will not do it, and you will issue me a fine.”

The Gardiner City Council had invited Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the Winthrop Town Council, to discuss Winthrop’s decision in July to impose the same guidelines that Gov. Janet Mills imposed July 8 on the state’s more-coastal counties and on Bangor, Brewer, Lewiston, Auburn and Augusta, for businesses to enforce the state’s mask requirement.

Gardiner city councilors also invited Troy Cutler, a nurse at MaineGeneral Health Center in Augusta and the supervisor of infection prevention, to discuss measures being taken to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

Ayotte, who joined the meeting via Zoom, said that as a boy, he had been sexually assaulted by his mother’s boyfriend.

“This is the first time I’ve ever had to admit that openly and publicly,” he said, and now, he cannot wear a mask.

“Since COVID started, I feel like I have to wear a scarlet letter outside my house because of what happened to me, which I have had years of counseling to be able to the video I am doing now,” Ayotte said.

He said he wanted to hear the people who “pretend to be councilors and members of my community” to answer why he is required to wear a mask every time he goes into a business inside city limits.

“Gardiner is now thinking of restricting that even further, so I want to hear from every single one of them,” Ayotte said.

In March, just as the first cases of coronavirus infection were surfacing in Maine, a global pandemic was declared. In the days that followed, businesses, government agencies and schools across Maine closed or halted in-person interactions. That was followed by a two-month stay-at-home order.

Even so, the virus spread throughout the state. As of Thursday, Maine had tracked 4,617 cases and 133 deaths. While the number of people being hospitalized for treatment and the number who have are being admitted to intensive care units have been decreasing, new cases continue to be reported every day.

Mills imposed the requirement on businesses in select locations to enforce mask wearing in July as restrictions on businesses in Maine’s tourism industry were being lifted and out-of-state visitors were starting to arrive in greater numbers.

While public health experts were initially divided in their recommendations about wearing masks to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus, they now recommend wearing masks in public, particularly when people are unable to stay more than 6 feet away from one another.

But there are those who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to wear masks.

Cutler said while a mask offers better protection from spreading the virus, face shields are another option, although not as good.

Fuller said Winthrop adopted the mask-wearing mandate for a couple of key reasons.

“We wanted to eliminate confusion about where you’re supposed to wear masks, and where you don’t have to, across the geographical boundaries,” she said. “We felt uniformity and consistency was important for public health.”

Winthrop officials announced the policy through the town’s alert system and shared information in the local advertiser. They have relied on education to address compliance with the policy, which generally starts with a telephone call.

“We’re not going with police officers and forcing people to wear masks,” Fuller said. “We’re relying on people to become compliant once they are educated.”

As a member of the chamber of commerce in Winthrop, she said she has worked with that organization to get the word out.

Hallowell has enacted similar restrictions.

Toman said the number of complaints his department has received about mask wearing varies from week to week. Some weeks, there are no complaints.

Kris McNeill, Gardiner’s code enforcement officer, said the businesses he has approached about mask regulations promptly changed their procedures.

Melissa Lindley, executive director of Gardiner Maine Street, said she has spoken with some business owners, and each has his or her own take.

“Some are concerned because they want to be as welcoming as possible, and they don’t want to refuse service,” Lindley said. “Others are happy to comply, and they are happy it’s not up to them to be enforcement.”

Ayotte said he disagrees with city officials when it comes to rules for face masks.

“I have been recording this meeting and I’ve got notes from the meeting,” he said. “I disagree with your assessment and I think you are all absolutely hypocritical about this. I look forward to the elections in November so we can vote out every single one of you that vote for this.”

He questioned how the people who cannot wear masks are being protected, and wanted to know if they would have to show papers when they shop at Hannaford.

“What we’re missing is that there is a human aspect of what we are expecting of our neighbors,” he said. “I don’t really think that bypassing these (by) party line — let’s call it what it is: A party line political issue in an election year. I don’t think Gardiner needs to be stooping to that level. It has always risen above national and statewide party politics to do what’s best for the community.”

At-large City Councilor Jon Ault said he did not consider the matter a political issue.

“It’s a decision of what’s best for my neighbors and the community,” Ault said. “There are a lot of carve outs. I am not making this a political issue. It’s lamentable that certain people are.”

The City Council did not vote on the matter Wednesday. Councilors agreed a task force should be formed to examine what neighboring communities are doing, and then make recommendations for the City Council’s consideration.

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