Gardiner officials and meeting attendees wear masks during Wednesday’s City Council meeting as they discuss imposing a mask mandate at public meetings and at the Gardiner Public Library. Seated from left: acting City Manager Anne Davis, Councilor Tim Cusick, Councilor Terry Berry, Mayor Patricia Hart and Councilor Kathy Brown. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

GARDINER — City officials are now requiring masks be worn at public meetings and at the Gardiner Public Library, as COVID-19 cases continue to surge statewide and hospitalizations remain at near-record levels.

Gardiner City Council members, all wearing masks, voted unanimously Wednesday to impose the mask mandate, with the condition it is reviewed regularly.

Acting City Manager Anne Davis recommended the mandate.

Davis said one city employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and is staying home for 10 days, another employee is waiting for results of a test and cannot come to work until the results are in and three more employees have had close contact with someone with COVID-19.

“It made me realize that we are still very much in this pandemic,” Davis said. “We need to keep our staff and public as safe as we can.”

In recent weeks, the daily COVID-19 count in Maine, reported by the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, has regularly topped 1,000 new cases a day. The surge in cases in recent months has been driven by the more-contagious delta variant, even as the more highly contagious omicron variant spreads in Maine and across the world.

With many people using at-home COVID-19 tests, whose results are not always reported to the state, the daily case count issued by the state does not necessarily reflect the spread of the disease in Maine.

Gardiner’s mandate requires anyone attending a public meeting in Gardiner or meeting with a member of the city staff to wear a mask. Staff members working inside City Hall have discretion whether to wear masks, as do members of the public walking into the building.

The library presents a different challenge.

“If you are hip to the CDC guidelines, they say (with) a 15-minute exposure, you usually don’t have to worry,” Davis said.

But the library imposes no time limits on how long people can use the facility, she said, and some people spend the day at the library. At the same time, young children, who have not yet been vaccinated, are coming to the library and she does not want them feeling they cannot come to library staff for help.

District 1 Councilor Terry Berry said he would like to see the topic revisited during each City Council meeting.

“It doesn’t have to be a long discussion,” Berry said, “but it should be a reminder on the agenda that it is a topic we should be thinking about.”

Mayor Patricia Hart recommended tying the discussion to the color-coded guidance from the Maine CDC on Kennebec County’s status on the rate of COVID-19 infection.

District 2 Councilor Kerstin Gilg, who was elected in November and sworn in Wednesday evening, suggested it be considered monthly.

“I’m just saying we’re here together every two weeks,” Berry said. “This seems to be rapidly changing, and everything that I’m following says there will be a drastic change in two to three weeks, and things are just going to go back downhill.”

Berry said he was concerned the topic not be overlooked. After some discussion, the councilors agreed to revisit the topic monthly or sooner, as needed.

Davis said the city has followed the recommendations of the state since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which recommends wearing masks while indoors.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first one at which members of the City Council wore masks since they resumed meeting in person in August 2021.

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