ROCKPORT — Signs are popping up in town offices and businesses, requiring people to wear protective masks due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Not everyone agrees on the best policy to follow and not everyone is content about the guidelines being implemented.

Signs requiring masks are posted at the Rockport and Appleton Town Offices. Chamber of Commerce employees are wearing masks when interacting with the public and schools, and some businesses are going back to masking. National Parks and The University of Maine are mandating masks.

It is still not universal as it was over the winter, but it is on the rise.

“Over the last two weeks, anecdotally, I had noticed an increase in the number of residents entering the building wearing masks and that increase carried over as I went to the grocery store, etc.,” said Rockport Town Manager Jon Duke.

“I think, culturally, we’re all buckling down on our own whether mandates exist or merely recommendations.”

Medical experts continue to urge everyone who can to get vaccinated but note that there is a benefit to the masks.

“Given the recent rise in community spread, indoor masking can have an important role in supplementing the protection conferred by COVID-19 vaccines, especially if indoor spaces are occupied by a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people,” said Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Cheryl Liechty of Pen Bay Medical Center. “Vaccination remains the most powerful tool we have.”

The Rockport Town Office began requiring masks again following its policy when the Maine CDC designated Knox County as having ‘substantial’ community transmission last week.

“The Maine CDC is recommending all individuals (vaccinated or not) wear masks indoors in communities with ‘substantial’ spread or higher,” Duke said. “So, effectively, we’re simply following the guidance of the Federal and State government.”

Appleton Select Board Chair Lorie Costigan pointed to the uptick in positive cases, the new strain, CDC guidelines and the recent closure of nearby town offices including Hope.

“The Appleton Select Board may change the night it meets, as the town has a limited meeting space in the area that also serves as the reception area for residents needing town services,” she said.

“An elected official has been asked by an employer to remain in masked environments when in group settings, regardless of vaccination status, due to strains on employee levels at key state institutions. That reality was shared in writing this week, making our need to better ensure a safe environment for all clear.”

Appleton Select Board member Marci Moody Blakely told the Select Board that her employer, the prison, was down 45 positions.

In Hope, the Town Office was recently closed briefly due to a case of COVID-19 reported by a person who had been in the Town Office. It reopened Aug. 18. The Select Board will take up the mask question at its next meeting 6:30 p.m., Aug. 24.

Meanwhile, some parents and community members in Union 69 expressed their desire to have the mask question be a matter of parental choice. School officials confirmed that in meetings in Appleton, Hope and Lincolnville there have been dissenting voices opposing a universal mask mandate for the school children.

Larger districts in the area including the Camden school district announced last week that there would be mask requirements in their schools.

Superintendent Kate Clark of Union 69 confirmed that the Appleton School Board voted 2-1 with Stephen Wadsworth opposed to adopt the plan put forth by the school’s Health and Safety Team. That plan includes a mandate for universal indoors masking.

“It was definitely an emotional decision on both sides of the argument,” Clark said.

To provide for more public discussion, she said there will be a “Q&A” meeting Wednesday, Aug. 25, at 5:30 p.m. at the Appleton School.

“We are certainly seeing more businesses re-implementing masking for their employees and recommending (and in some cases requiring) masking of their patrons,” said Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce President Tom Peaco.

“I have also seen at least one restaurant in the area re-institute limited indoor seating. I’m sure that these trends will continue locally in the coming days and weeks.”

“All our staff and volunteers are masking when interacting with others in our facilities, and we have posted signage recommending masks for those visiting our facilities,” he said. “We also have complimentary masks available for any who want or need one.”

He said the chamber is following CDC guidelines.

In the Lincolnville Town Office, masks are required for anyone unvaccinated, said Town Administrator David Kinney, “and for those fully vaccinated we are following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. As Waldo County is currently classified as having a ‘high’ level of COVID-19 community transmission we are advising everyone to wear face coverings in public indoor settings (including the town office).”

In the Camden Town Office, it is recommended residents wear masks, but not mandatory.

To meet in person or do work via Zoom is another issue each town board must face, and it is complicated by the rules dictated in Augusta.

Duke noted that Rockport’s Select Board adopted a remote participation policy Aug. 9.

“The Legislature created a law, which we followed closely, which greatly limits our opportunities to use Zoom, etc. in the absence of a State of Emergency issued by the governor,” he explained. “Effectively this new law forces each and every board or committee in the state, who wishes to meet in part remotely, to do so following public hearing and policy adoption.”

He added that even then, there are limits on what can be done in Zoom. He questioned why the Legislature did not allow municipal officers in each community the right to decide their own process.

“I understand the need to support public meetings and return to meeting together when and where it can be done safely,” he said.

“The challenge in so many communities is in finding residents who can participate and ensure a broad cross section of the town is represented. Zoom meetings helped provide a pathway for more residents to be involved from young to old and this law does not allow each municipality to determine for itself how much it wishes to involve technology in its meetings.”

“For the time being all meetings in Lincolnville are being conducted in person,” Kinney said. “With rising COVID numbers the board will be discussing adopting a remote meeting policy at an upcoming meeting.”

Meanwhile, tracking the severity of the pandemic and the rules and guidelines for wearing masks remains something of a moving target for town and school officials as well as the public.