ELLSWORTH — The city has been awarded a $25,372 grant from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services as part of a “Keep Maine Healthy 2020 Municipal COVID-19 Awareness Campaign” that will help fund activities to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The city has already provided about 30 gallons of bulk hand sanitizer to local businesses, City Manager David Cole said at a City Council meeting July 20. The additional funds will allow for the purchase of more personal protective equipment (PPE), including hand sanitizer and masks, a public awareness campaign and upgrades that allow for the toilets and sinks at Knowlton Park to be no-touch, said Janna Richards, economic development director.
Staff have been speaking with the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce and businesses to understand what support they need to adapt to state rules and be able to operate safely.
“Under the Governor’s latest executive order,” said Cole, “the city does have a role to play, but it’s laid out by the state as primarily educational.”
City Council Chairman Dale Hamilton said he’s seen “far greater compliance” on state mandates requiring masks in recent days.
“Regardless of your view of whether you should wear a mask, shouldn’t wear a mask, my right to, my right not to,” said Hamilton, “the reality for our businesses is that they are under mandate by executive orders to follow certain protocols, and the best thing we can do to support our local businesses is follow whatever parameters are set in place.”
Governor Janet Mills issued an executive order earlier this month requiring “large retail businesses, restaurants, outdoor bars, tasting rooms, and lodging establishments” in Maine’s coastal and most populous counties, including Hancock, Cumberland, York, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc, as well as the cities of Bangor, Brewer, Lewiston, Auburn and Augusta, to enforce the May executive order requiring masks in indoor public places. Masks are also required outside in areas where physical distancing is impractical.
While shifting guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) early in the pandemic may have sown confusion about whether masks can help prevent the spread, scientists are now in agreement that masks can be a powerful, low-cost tool to fight the virus.
At the beginning of the pandemic, it was not widely known exactly how the virus spreads. But both the WHO and CDC are now in agreement that even simple cloth face coverings help prevent the wearer from passing on infected droplets — particularly as many of those infected may not know they’re sick.
“If the American public all embraced masking now and we really did it rigorously,” Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the CDC, told the Journal of the American Medical Association in an interview July 14, “if we could get everybody to get a mask right now, I really do think that, over the next four, six, eight weeks, we could bring this epidemic under control.”
Several large retailers have also announced in recent weeks that masks will be required in their stores, including Walmart, Target and CVS.
“Hancock County has fared well,” Hamilton said last Monday. “I think that speaks to the fact that people are adhering to it.”
Hancock County has consistently had one of the lowest case rates in the state, at 3.5 per 10,000 people, according to figures from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There were 19 confirmed and probably cases as of Monday morning. Those figures do not include the number of out-of-state residents testing positive, however, which has been a persistent worry from residents who fear travelers and visitors with second homes may seed outbreaks.
As of July 18, the Maine CDC had tallied a total of 120 positive cases of COVID-19 among out-of-state residents, including 22 residents of New Hampshire, 24 from Massachusetts and 17 from New York, CDC Communications Director Robert Long said in an email last week.