WATERVILLE — The City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to approve a resolution asking city employees and those entering city buildings to wear a mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The move does not mandate that masks be worn. It lets residents know the City Council is serious about helping to prevent the spread of the virus, according to Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, who proposed the resolution.

“The reports of the number of cases in Maine are growing day by day, so I don’t think we should sit on our hands and wait for the people at the state level to wake up,” Francke said. “It’s time for Waterville to do what it can do.”

Councilor Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, was the lone dissenter, saying he did not think government should dictate what people do with their bodies. He said he was not against masks but only the pressure-tested N95 masks are proven to work, a claim Councilor Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, disputed. She said she understands the science behind the N95s but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommends wearing a mask.

“It is very important for us to send a message to everyone in Waterville that it’s important to wear masks and to follow CDC guidance, and I think this resolution will fulfill that,” Green said.

Francke initially proposed an ordinance requiring city employees and visitors in city buildings to wear masks, but received pushback from some councilors and others that the city is following CDC guidelines, which do not require mask wearing. He revised the ordinance and made it a resolution instead. Foss recommended tabling the ordinance request since the council was to consider the resolution later in the meeting. Foss’ motion to table failed in a 3-4 vote. Foss, Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, and Councilor Michael Morris, D-Ward 1, were the only three who voted for tabling.

Francke said the national CDC says wearing masks is the right thing to do, even if people are vaccinated. He also said other municipalities are considering requiring mask wearing, and Maine has lagged behind after leading the nation in prevention last summer.

But City Manager Stephen Daly said he objected to using an ordinance to require people to wear masks in city buildings.

“When you use an ordinance, it’s local law and I think it’s heavy-handed,” Daly said.

He said the city has had a COVID-19 team managing precautions since the pandemic started and the public has not objected to how it has dealt with the pandemic.

“Administratively, I think we’ve handled it quite well,” Daly said.

Thomas said such an ordinance would create an “administrative nightmare” for Daly and the police department, and he was more supportive of suggesting people wear masks, rather than requiring them.

Councilor Flavia DeBrito, D-Ward 2, said people in federal buildings, including courts, are required to wear masks. She reported later in the meeting that she had changed her last name from Oliveira to DeBrito.

Mayor Jay Coelho said he supports doing whatever the CDC mandates.

The ordinance request failed in a 6-1 vote, with Francke the only one supporting it.

As councilors afterward discussed the resolution asking but not requiring people to wear masks in city buildings, DeBrito said colleges, schools, hospitals and other medical facilities require people to wear masks. She asked Fire Chief Shawn Esler if paramedics in his department who go to people’s houses for emergencies wear masks. Esler said firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics wear gloves, sealed eyewear and N95 masks and are no threat to patients. He said the fire department transports COVID-19 patients every day. Only two fire department employees are unvaccinated and one is planning to get vaccinated and the other will not, citing a medical exemption, he said.

Councilor Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, said mask wearing isn’t just to protect city employees.

“This is for all residents here in the city of Waterville and anyone else that might come into Waterville and come into these public places,” he said.

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