ELLSWORTH — In a 6-0 vote, with one councilor absent, Ellsworth city councilors approved a resolution on Monday to send a letter asking Governor Janet Mills to do away with travel restrictions into the state, including the proposed 14-day quarantine, and allow all businesses to open immediately, “with the implementation of appropriate safety measures.”
“The phased-in plan really presented some significant roadblocks,” said Council Chairman Dale Hamilton. While many larger businesses have been able to stay open during the pandemic, Hamilton noted, most smaller ones have had to close.
The letter was signed by the six present councilors, Hamilton and councilors John Moore, John Phillips, Michelle Kaplan, Heather Grindle and Marc Blanchette. Councilor Robert Miller’s signature does not appear on the draft letter and he was not present at Monday’s meeting.
“If we don’t address this, if we do not have a change in this phased-in approach, we will have people who will lose their livelihood,” Hamilton said.
The county has, so far, largely been spared from COVID-19, with 10 confirmed cases and one hospitalization, which Hamilton noted could be due, in part, to the area’s rural nature as well as to early and strict safety measures put in place.
“I think we all know that there’s probably many more cases that aren’t confirmed,” said Hamilton, but he insisted that small businesses are willing and able to safely open.
“I haven’t heard any business owner say just let me open my doors and move forward,” said Hamilton. “They’ve all said we’ll do it safely. The consumers are going to demand that anyway.”
The letter notes that the opening of businesses by type “is an artificial distinction that does not reflect the reality of the business community. The artificial identification of business type is disproportionately hurting our small businesses. More importantly, it is not grounded in, or supported by, data concerning health and safety.”
It continues: “What is the difference between a small retail shop serving X number of individuals based on square footage and that of a big-box store or grocery store? The city of Ellsworth is prepared to work with businesses, not as enforcement but as support.”
Working with businesses, said Hamilton, could take the form of education and bulk ordering personal protective equipment.
As for the 14-day quarantine (which District Attorney Matt Foster said this week legally allows travelers to shop for groceries, purchase gas and engage in other “essential services”), the letter notes that: “Seven of the sixty-two counties in New York account for nearly 85 percent of the confirmed positive cases. That means that many travelers coming from out of state are likely to have less exposure than some of our Maine residents who reside in Cumberland County.”
The required quarantine, said Hamilton, has meant many businesses “have already taken a hit” as travelers heard about it and began canceling reservations.
Instead of a quarantine, the letter asks for guidelines for lodging facilities and extensive education.
“Face coverings, hygiene protocols, social distancing are much more likely to be enforced within communities than would our ability to control a 14-day quarantine,” councilors wrote.
Hamilton stressed several times that the letter was an attempt to work with the Governor, not against her.
“This is not a political statement, this is not a party issue, and in no way does this represent a political ideology,” Hamilton said Monday. “This is simply the fact that the plan that’s been submitted does not meet the needs of our communities.”
The letter, a copy of which is available on the city’s website, also requests “An immediate opportunity to work with your administration to create a regional plan. A plan that can be implemented and managed locally.”
Councilors, who were gathered safely distanced and with fewer than 10 people in the council chambers, were supportive of the letter.
“The sheer volume of patients that we were anticipating has not happened, whether it’s because we closed things down or because Mainers are very good at following recommendations, or both,” said Kaplan, who works as a physician’s assistant at Mount Desert Island Hospital.
“This is about not just safety, but it’s also about free liberty,” said Kaplan. “This is the 200th anniversary of the state of Maine and here we are in lockdown. That’s not liberty; that’s not what we fought for.”
“I agree with your thought process of trying to get her to move a little bit off-center,” said Phillips. “I do think that there’s certain social responsibilities for all of us. The businesses will be careful but we as individuals also need to be cognizant of what we’re doing … I think we’re all responsible for our own fate.”