In the week since a statewide requirement to wear masks in public settings was imposed, the state agency taking complaints about mask wearing has reported an increase in reports of noncompliance.

Even so, as COVID-19 spreads across Maine and as anti-mask protests continue, officials responsible for enforcing mask requirements are relying on education and voluntary compliance.

On Thursday, the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention reported 194 new coronavirus cases and one new death. The seven-day rolling average for daily cases rose to 165, which is five times the average from a month ago.

Kate Foye, spokeswoman for the Department of Economic and Community Development, said this week the state places high priority on voluntary compliance.

“(We’re) encouraged by Maine people, businesses and organizations who are taking the very real threat of the virus seriously by following the state’s health and safety protocols,” Foye wrote in an email.

Statistics on the number and types of complaints are not yet available, according to Foye.

Officials from the Office of Attorney General to local municipal code enforcement officers have authority to enforce provisions spelled out in executive orders. Failure to comply with them is considered a Class E crime, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for individuals. Organizations face fines as large as $10,000.

Chief Jared Mills of the Augusta Police Department said this week that taking more-punitive action would be counterproductive and add to the burden of cases state courts now face.

“The executive orders come from the Governor and the suggestion and recommendation has always been that we educate and seek voluntary compliance rather than court action, which is what we continue to do with the latest order,” Mills wrote in an email.

“While we always have the option to issue a ticket, in these circumstances we will always attempt to exhaust our attempts to educate those in non-compliance before summonsing the to court. We approach the rallies on city property in the same manner.”

Law enforcement officials in Somerset and northern Kennebec counties said they are requiring officers and deputies to wear masks, in accordance with Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order that almost everyone wear a mask when away from home.

Winslow’s new police chief, Leonard Macdaid, said his officers wear masks in public and ask people who aren’t wearing a mask to put one on.

“We’re going by exactly what the governor’s order is,” Macdaid said. “The town is, also. Yes, we are wearing masks in public. We’re trying to do voluntary compliance, which has been working really well. We’re trying to get people to do it on their own.”

Chief Joseph Massey of the Waterville Police Department said he is requiring officers to wear masks, seeking voluntary compliance by the public and focusing on education and warnings. If enforcement is required, he said, officers will take action.

“With the uptick in cases reported with the virus, I’m hoping that everybody will adhere to the executive order and CDC guidelines,” Massey said.

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said deputies must wear masks when interacting with people and stopping vehicles.

“We’re wearing masks inside of offices, corrections officers are wearing masks and inmates are wearing masks,” Lancaster said.

COVID-19 is transmitted through particles in the air, and Lancaster said it makes sense that wearing masks minimizes exposure to the virus.

“We do end up dealing with people who are in need of police services or require police services, and you don’t know where they’ve been or who they’ve been in contact with,” he said. “I think that people should wear a mask until there’s a vaccine and people can get the vaccine.”

Chief Thomas Gould of the Fairfield Police Department said he and his officers are seeking voluntary compliance by the public.

“When we see issues, we ask them to please mask up,” Gould said.

American Legion members, scouts and others wearing masks attend the Veterans Day ceremony Wednesday at Castonguay Square in downtown Waterville. The Veterans Day parade and ceremony were organized by Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post No. 5. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

His officers wear masks when they are in public, he said.

“We’re a very small department and if COVID hit us, it would hit us hard,” he said.

Chief Pete Bickmore of the Pittsfield Police Department said he and his officers are seeking compliance by the public and not having to enforce mask requirements.

“All of our officers are wearing masks and they’re encouraged to use social distance. Basically, I tell them to do what work they can over the phone,” Bickmore said. “It just limits contact, and if they can do it over the phone as a way of social distancing, they do that.”

Bickmore said he encourages officers to approach motorists on traffic stops from the passenger side of the vehicle for more social distancing. Officers, he said, are supposed to wipe down their cruisers at the beginning of their shifts, especially the steering wheel and mobile data terminals, wash their hands often, use hand sanitizer, wear gloves, especially when dealing with paperwork, and limit their exposure to the public.

Bickmore said the Maine Chiefs of Police Association is working closely with police departments statewide, passing on information about COVID-19 and best practices coming from other departments in and outside of Maine.

Chief David Bucknam of the Skowhegan Police Department said his officers are wearing masks and people in town are doing what is expected.

“We have no issues with the governor’s executive order,” he said, “and people are voluntarily complying with the CDC’s recommendations for safety.”

Bucknam said his officers wear a mask when they interact with the public.

“If they are unable to stay outside and have social distance, they do have a mask,” he said. “The public seems to be doing what’s expected of them, and we’re happy to see that. We’re happy that people are voluntarily complying with the safety piece.”

Sharon Gibbs wears a mask Tuesday as she trains her dogs Lucy, left, and Jorja at the bulkhead above the Kennebec River along Granite City Park in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said her office has not yet seen a criminal summons for failure to wear a mask, but if she sees one, she will review it.

On Saturday, at a rally near the Blaine House in Augusta supporting President Trump that drew hundreds of people, few attendees wore masks. When asked if they would enforce the mask mandate, members of the Capitol Police declined to comment.

Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin did not return a call for comment Thursday.

Actions protesting the mandate for masks are expected to continue.

Gov. Mills said Thursday on Maine Public’s “Maine Calling” radio show that she has recommended if someone enters a store without wearing a mask, store management, local police and local code enforcement should be notified.

Information has circulated this week on social media about an event scheduled for noon Sunday during which people who oppose mask mandates are expected to show up at five supermarkets in Maine — Hannaford in Gardiner, Bridgton, Oxford and Sanford, and Shaw’s in Scarborough — to show support for those who cannot wear masks for medical reason or do not for other reasons, such as politics.

The event was circulated in a post, but it is not listed as an event on the group’s Facebook page.

Hannaford released this statement Thursday: “All of our stores require the use of masks for customers and associates who are medically able to wear them. In addition to displaying prominent signage requiring shoppers to wear masks, we provide a free mask to any customer who needs one. We ask all our customers to help us ensure the safety of one another, our associates and our community by wearing masks while shopping.”

Ericka Dodge, a spokeswoman for the company, said Hannaford has complied with all state laws and executive orders.

Gardiner Code Enforcement Officer Kris McNeill said the directives require a sign on the door and that businesses ask customers to wear masks. While businesses cannot force customers to wear masks, and some people cannot wear them for medical or other reasons, businesses have the right to refuse service to those who do not comply.

“It’s not mandated to make them leave if they don’t,” he said.

Waterville Code Enforcement Officer Dan Bradstreet said he does not enforce the mask mandate, which would be difficult to do for his small department.

“I know the governor has mentioned that on previous executive orders, as well,” he said.

Bradstreet said a code enforcement department in a large city, such as Portland, might have enough people to enforce mask rules, but small departments do not.

“I don’t know of any other local code enforcement in this area that is doing that, or will be,” he said.

McNeill said when he gets a complaint about a business or organization in Gardiner not complying with the mask mandate, he stops by check out the situation.

“It’s pretty much educational more than enforcement,” McNeill said. “I’ll drop off a copy of the mandate or the restaurant rules, whichever apply, and go over it with them to figure out how they can comply, and move on.”

For the most part, McNeill said, either a business owner or an employee has been unaware of the mask requirement.

McNeill said after he has visited and provided education, he has not had to return. Business owners have all wanted to cooperate, he said.

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