‘Wear a damn mask:’ Portland reminds businesses, customers to heed pandemic guidelines

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Portland police paid special attention to Old Port revelers last Saturday night after viral social media posts showed people packed together on Wharf Street, most without masks.

Late Sunday the city reported its enforcement efforts had worked. 

The photos of people outside Bonfire Country Bar on Friday night, June 26, began circulating early Saturday morning.

City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau was one of those who took notice. In a post on his personal Facebook page, he urged people to wear masks and not “ruin the hard work we’ve all been doing.”
A security monitor on Wharf Street in Portland in the early evening of Saturday, June 27, a day after images surfaced on social media of crowds ignoring social-distancing rules. (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)

“I have to plead with all of you, don’t ruin this for all of us,” Thibodeau said in an accompanying video. “If you’re out in public and can’t maintain 6 feet of distance, wear a damn mask.”

By Saturday afternoon, the city had issued a public reminder that businesses must comply with state COVID-19 reopening guidelines. The notice also said police and code enforcement officers would be deployed to Wharf Street Saturday night, and threatened to revoke outdoor dining permits for Wharf Street if violations continued.

On Sunday, a Police Department statement said officers did not discover any more violations after checking several businesses in the Old Port and other parts of the city. Police said business owners were receptive to the city’s efforts and seemed committed to maintaining social distancing guidelines set by the state.

The owners of Bonfire, which drew most of the public’s ire on social media, also issued a statement over the weekend. They said the bar had “stayed current with the perplexing guidance and constant regulatory changes while preparing to return to our passion … service.”

The statement, released to News Center Maine, maintained the bar has taken steps to keep customers safe.

“During early June we were proud of our city officials as they stood literally shoulder-to-shoulder on the steps of City Hall in a demonstration of unity,” the release stated. “We are hopeful those officials will stand equally proud with us as we attempt to bring life back to Portland in a positive manner. In this spirit we recently reopened our doors with procedures which exceed all mandatory requirements and will continue to seek ways to improve. Should someone have a constructive idea on how we can do better we welcome the information for evaluation and possible implementation.”

While businesses and patrons were apparently displaying better behavior Saturday night, the upcoming holiday weekend could be another test. Although the city’s fireworks display on the Eastern Promenade has been canceled, the Fourth of July is historically busy in the Old Port.

The city as of Monday had not announced any further plans for special monitoring of the Old Port over the holiday weekend. But it will have two code enforcement officers and 10 additional police officers on duty Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and will also be posting additional signs to remind people about physical distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding congested spaces.

“One issue to be thinking about is how people congregate on sidewalks and streets outside of businesses, even if the business is not doing business outside,” Mayor Kate Snyder said Monday. “It’s very important for anyone who can’t achieve 6 feet distance to be wearing a mask.”

Meanwhile, the number of cases of COVID-19 in Maine continues to climb. On Monday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 28 new coronavirus cases and one additional death, which brought the state total to 105. The state averaged nearly 34 new cases a day during the seven days through Sunday, compared with an average of 24 per day during the prior seven-day period.