GARDINER — As COVID-19 continues to spread across Maine, public officials are starting to revisit precautions designed to slow the spread of the contagious respiratory virus.

The Gardiner City Council on Wednesday is expected to consider whether to mandate the use of masks during public meetings at the recommendation of Anne Davis, the acting city manager.

“With us coming off vacations, it’s a good time to do a gut check and see if you have gotten complacent, and maybe you want to go back to what you used to do,” Davis said. “It is to me a gentle way to remind people to be more safe.”

Reports from the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention show that infection rates remain elevated in Maine after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. On Tuesday, 1,481 more cases were reported, along with 25 additional deaths, while a new report suggests the more contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 now accounts for more than 8% of cases in Maine.

The requested mandate in Gardiner would require masks to be worn at City Council and city committee meetings, as well as during any one-on-one meetings between city staff members and the public.

Davis said the City Council room has heat pumps but no air exchange and windows are likely to be open even in winter to allow air to circulate.

Last year, when the state of civil emergency in Maine was allowed to expire, Gardiner boards returned to the practice of meeting in-person, after more than a year of holding meetings exclusively via Zoom.

Like many other communities, Gardiner elected officials enacted policies to allow for hybrid meetings, with some people present in the meeting room and others participating via phone or online.

In addition to considering mask requirements during public meetings, city officials would also like that practice to be extended to the Gardiner Public Library. Justin Hoenke, director of the Gardiner Public Library, is also asking the council to consider a mask mandate for library staff and visitors. Because of the nature of helping people at the library, it is not always possible to maintain physical distance.

Across the region, local governments have taken different approaches as the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its third year in Maine.

For its final meeting of 2021, the Kennebec County Commissioners opted to meet via Zoom, a practice that’s continuing into this year.

In December, Patsy Crockett, chairwoman of the commissioners, said returning to virtual meetings seemed to be a prudent move given the continuing spread of COVID-19 across Maine.

In Hallowell, city buildings are open to the public on a limited basis through Jan. 28, and its City Council and its committee meetings will be in the hybrid format.

But precautions and practices continue to vary widely among central Maine towns. The Windsor Town Office is open without restriction. While mask recommendations and signs have been removed, town officials are asking for social distance where possible.

In Augusta, wearing masks is currently voluntary when entering City Hall.

People who are attending council meetings are asked to wear masks because of the close quarters of that chamber, Mayor David Rollins said. Those addressing the council from the podium are allowed to take their masks off when they are speaking.

“We ask people to participate voluntarily,” Rollins, who is wrapping up his tenure as mayor, said Tuesday. “There’s no mandate in place, so people have complied.”

The concern is not limited to the public sector. On Tuesday, the Maine Council of Churches issued a public plea to congregations across Maine to do what they can to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including returning to virtual worship services and preaching about the importance of vaccinations, booster shots and masks.

Kennebec Journal staff writer Keith Edwards contributed to this report.

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