Rockland imposes emergency shutdown of public gatherings of more than 10

By Stephen Betts | Mar 17, 2020
Photo by: Stephen Betts The Rockland City Council holds an emergency meeting Tuesday morning, March 17, to discuss how to react to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Rockland — The city imposed an emergency ban Tuesday of public gatherings of more than 10 people in establishments to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"I hereby declare no business shall host or organize and no more than 10 individuals shall be in or remain in any establishment at the same time within the City including, but not limited to, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, museums, dance clubs, music venues, and any other establishment where individuals gather in groups or are in close contact with one another beginning March 17, 2020, as of the time of this writing (immediately)," the order from City Manager Tom Luttrell states.

"As per Chapter 2, article XXI, this order shall remain in effect for 5 days, unless and until it is renewed by the Rockland City Council," the order concludes.

Councilor Valli Geiger moved to approve an emergency declaration at an emergency meeting of the City Council Tuesday morning, March 17, but Mayor Lisa Westkaemper said that the city's emergency ordinance policy leaves that authority to the city manager after consultation with the mayor. After the meeting adjourned, the mayor met with the manager. The City Council meeting ended at 11 a.m.

The order was issued at about 2:30 p.m.

City Manager Luttrell said that an extension of the order beyond five days would need to be approved by a vote of the City Council.

"Given the gravity of the situation, I don't see any other option," Councilor Nathan Davis said during the March 17 meeting.

Councilor Geiger, who has been a nurse for 40 years and who did graduate work in public health, said she believes the United States is within three weeks from what is happening in Italy, where the new virus has exploded exponentially and is leading to growing deaths.

Geiger pointed out that during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, Philadelphia saw extreme numbers of deaths as hospitals were overwhelmed because it did not impose restrictions in a timely manner, yet St. Louis acted swiftly and the impact was far less.

Davis agreed, saying that many people with the virus may not show symptoms and the only way to reduce the spread is to limit public gatherings.

Operators of pubs attended the meeting and urged the City Council not to enact a closure of bars and restaurants.

Leslie Spiers of the Myrtle Street Tavern said she keeps her business clean and that she does not allow more than 49 people in her establishment at a time. She said surfaces are cleaned continuously and plastic bottles are being used.

She said to single out bars and restaurants would be unfair.

Katie McKinley agreed, saying that there were more people at grocery stores where people are touching products. She asked why churches and playgrounds are not closed if bars and restaurants were to be shut down.

"This seems like prohibition," she said.

Luttrell said later Tuesday that the Myrtle Street Tavern has since agreed to close.

Councilor Ben Dorr said he, too, runs a business and is part of the working poor but that a two-week closure could prevent worsening conditions that could extend to the summer when tourism would be far greater.

Restaurants can operate with take-out orders. The city said it could place temporary signs outside restaurants to dedicate parking spaces for pick-up orders.

The Small Business Administration will offer loan interest loans to businesses harmed by the shutdown.

Councilors Davis and Ed Glaser asked if there was a way to offer financial assistance to people put out of work such as general assistance. The city manager said the city could provide such assistance even if the state rules have not loosened and worry about getting state reimbursement later, if at all.

"People are living pay check to pay check and there is going to be immediate and severe financial hardships over the next few weeks," Davis said.

The city manager said people can contact general assistance if they are in need of food vouchers or rent checks. The telephone at general assistance will be checked regularly.

Detective Sgt. Joel Neal addressed the City Council and said the department is changing its policies to not respond in person to non-emergency calls. People can talk with an officer over the telephone and send photographs if there has been something such as criminal mischief.

City Hall will remain open but the Rockland Public Library and Flanagan Community Center are closed. The public is also not allowed in other city buildings.

The city manager said some city hall workers will work remotely from home. Inspection of homes by the assessor will be limited to exteriors. The fire department is not performing inspections or other non-emergency services.

Davis asked the city to reach out to supermarkets to see how strong their supply chains are.

The city manager also informed the public that they should not be flushing wipes down their toilets, Those wipes can plug up sewer systems.

Comments (6)
Posted by: Nathan Kroms Davis | Mar 17, 2020 17:17

Valerie, Maine has qualified for SBA Disaster Assistance loans for small businesses. You can read more here: https://www.sba.gov/disaster-assistance/coronavirus-covid-19. I am hoping that all small businesses in Rockland become aware of this opportunity. Please spread the word. I promise you that the City government is acutely aware of the economic hardship caused by this crisis, and we will do everything we can to mitigate it.



Posted by: Valerie Wass | Mar 17, 2020 16:58

The city made a wise choice.  However, I too own a small business and if there is no State or Federal financial assistance for businesses, how can we support our employees and their families?  If everything closes, it is sure to cause a financial downfall for this city as well as this State.  What about the daycare centers that have extra children so the parents can still work.  This is all so fretful.  Many do not even heed how dangerous this virus is.  Most importantly, I would close my business in a heart beat if someone could tell me how they are going to take home a paycheck every week.  Any suggestions?



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Mar 17, 2020 16:01

Try and tell some clown with a skin full of alcohol that they could be spreading disease..



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Mar 17, 2020 14:59

Try here:  www.openculture.com/2020/03/quarantined-italians-send-a-message-to-themselves.html?fbclid=IwAR0C8my4b3Lc2JfT8E9hWvdQBks1z8-EhG4nhfbFrn2Vr-bJ1JGVcOwOTso

You Tube has taken it down.



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Mar 17, 2020 14:48

Listen to our Italian compatriots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=199&v=o_cImRzKXOs&feature=emb_logo

I am going out and sing on my porch! Am thankful to be healthy enough to stay in my own home; for now.



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Mar 17, 2020 14:13

A m sure the city is making sure this is worded correctly.  Most churches have already shuttered their doors and most parents will not be allowing their kids on playgrounds.  This is for the COMMON GOOD, folks!



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