BAR HARBOR — “Don’t make us ask. Please wear a mask,” proclaims a digital traffic trailer sign at the entrance to downtown on Route 3. Mailboxes with free disposable face masks, instructions and hand sanitizer are available downtown. Signs are posted encouraging people to wear face coverings, especially in the most congested central areas.
It seems to be working.
Nina St. Germain, the town’s resource officer who is coordinating education and prevention efforts in the pandemic, checks the mailboxes twice a day and says the town is going through about 1,200 a day. The first 20,000 went quickly and the boxes were empty until a second order arrived, but now there should be enough for the next 70 days of the 100 or so left in the season.
“I want to congratulate your team for an incredibly effective job changing the culture of mask wearing in downtown Bar Harbor,” Dr. J.R. Krevans wrote to the town manager Tuesday. “Over the past two weeks, there has been a marked increase in mask wearing, and now almost all (over 90 percent by quick survey on three occasions) persons on the central streets of Bar Harbor are wearing masks. The staff and clientele at the key stores to locals (grocery, pharmacy and hardware) are now essentially 100 percent.”
Other towns and the Maine Municipal Association have reached out for advice on how to set up a program like this, St. Germain said. “The more people wear them around town, the more other people will wear them.”
The Town Council discussed adopting a local ordinance requiring face coverings as another tool for businesses to encourage customers to comply, but opted to issue a statement supporting Governor Janet Mills’ executive order on the subject instead.
Police Chief Jim Willis said there would be “a lot of work involved” in enforcing a local ordinance, and the state order provides tools for enforcement if necessary. Councilors said they didn’t want to create extra work for police and “wouldn’t expect (them) to hand out summonses.”
“If we can get voluntary compliance, mission accomplished,” Willis said. “Maybe a statement is a better way to go than an ordinance you’re going to ask us to ignore.”
Councilors asked St. Germain to reach out to delivery drivers to encourage them to wear masks while making deliveries to Bar Harbor businesses. Councilor Val Peacock also asked if some masks could also be available in Town Hill.
Dora Mills, former director of the Maine CDC and sister of the Governor, gave the town a shout-out on her popular Facebook page Monday. “Noticing so many tourists and license plates from 36 different states was at first alarming,” she wrote. “But seeing them all masked, keeping physically distanced and taking advantage of the frequent hand hygiene dispensers, was reassuring.”
Before the tourism season began in the spring, town officials and others planned and promoted these practices to enable people to visit safely, even as the pandemic emergency stretches on.
“I was pretty sure we could do it,” St. Germain said. “I mean, what’s the option?”