PHIPPSBURG — Gov. Janet Mills addressed Phippsburg Selectmen’s decision to “strongly encourage” rather than require face masks in municipal buildings to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

In her Friday briefing alongside Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah, Mills said she wasn’t aware Phippsburg selectmen have been bucking her mask mandate. However, Mills said she’s “happy to reach out to those people and talk to them about what the rules are, why they’re there and how they should enforce them.”

“If I were running any kind of facility, whether it’s a town office or a private business, I would not want to take the risk,” Mills said of Phippsburg’s decision. “My insurance company wouldn’t want me taking that risk either. There’s extensive liability involved potentially if someone is exposed in your facility and you’re deliberately ignoring health and safety precautions.”

In the same briefing, Mills announced a new executive order, effective immediately, which strengthens her previous mask mandate that was enacted on Nov. 5.

The new executive order still requires people to wear a mask while in indoor public spaces, regardless of the size or type. Now, if someone refuses to wear a mask, they must be denied entry. If someone removes their mask once inside a space, they must be removed and charged with criminal trespassing.

Criminal trespassing is a Class E crime punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a six-month jail term.

“While we’ll do everything we can to encourage and educate people to voluntarily comply and wear face coverings to protect their health and safety and that of others, we have been communicating with law enforcement agencies as well and they stand ready to assist if there’s any trouble enforcing this face-covering requirement,” Mills said.

The Phippsburg board had stood 2-1 in recent weeks on the issue of following Gov. Mills’ mask mandate in municipal buildings. Chairman Mike Young has voiced his continued support for requiring masks while in town buildings, but Chris Mixon and Julia House have held firm on their belief that masks should only be “strongly encouraged.”

Selectman Chris Mixon said last week he believes masks work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but argued requiring people to wear one is “an overreach of government power and a violation of civil liberties.”

House said her stance is based on people who can’t wear one for medical reasons because they’re “looked down upon and told to put a mask on or asked ‘why don’t you put a mask on?’ and those questions cannot be asked.”

There were 417 new COVID cases in Maine and seven new deaths, according to the Maine CDC, the Portland Press Herald reported Saturday. In addition, the paper reported 175 people with COVID-19 hospitalized in Maine on Saturday.

As of Saturday, the CDC reported 175 confirmed COVID cases in Sagadahoc County, with seven confirmed and probable cases in Phippsburg as of Nov. 29.

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