Guest column: Brunswick business owners shouldn’t have been given a mask mandate

I am writing this article in response to the recently adopted mask mandate here in Brunswick.

I attended the city council meeting in its entirety. I made my own argument against the warrant, along with several other people in the room, and more who attended virtually.

Personally, I have the impression that the board has decided to pass the mandate even before the start of the meeting. Those of us against – our comments were greeted with (literally) derogatory glances, sighs, glances and judgment. One board member seemed much more interested in his cell phone than anything we had to say.

The vitriol, name calling and bitterness on both sides of this issue is heartbreaking.

I have been a business owner and resident of Brunswick for almost 30 years, and have always considered this city to be my home.

I have made my closest and dearest friendships there. I appreciate and appreciate all that this small town has to offer. I am a loyal patron of its shops and restaurants. I kayak on its waters and hike its trails. I support local farmers and am a member of a CSA. I have volunteered on several charity boards and am doing my best to be a responsible and caring citizen.

I start each day with a long walk around downtown and the Bowdoin College campus, and each time it fills me with renewed spirit and energy.

This morning, I leave my house for my walk with a heavy heart.

Within hours of the Press Herald’s article about the tenure posting on Facebook, the feed was riddled with hateful and condescending comments.

“This is what people get for not vaccinating – I hope they’re happy.”

“What a complete joke. Even the CDC said those face layers were unnecessary.

“Some people don’t like the ‘all’ part. Instead, it’s me me me.

I understand the passion that surrounds this issue. My own 89-year-old mother was diagnosed with COVID on Christmas Eve last year while convalescing in a nursing home in New York City. I was unable to visit him. I worried about her day and night until she recovered, which she thankfully did.

I know many people who have lost loved ones to COVID and many more who work on the front lines in healthcare and hospitals, and as first responders. I am not minimizing the impact this pandemic has had on our daily lives.

I think we are smarter, better prepared and better informed than 18 months ago. Brunswick, in particular, has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state.

Business owners have already stepped up and made adjustments to serve their customers safely. Some recommend masking for unvaccinated clients according to CDC guidelines. Some require a mask and the use of hand sanitizer upon entry. Others have chosen to require proof of vaccination. Some leave the choice to hide from the customer.

Every decision is (and should be) the individual right and privilege of the business owner. If we do not agree with this decision, we have the right and the privilege not to entrust our affairs to them.

I would have liked the council to take this opportunity to unite us as a community, rather than moving us further apart. I would have liked them to invite us to participate in the discussion and the decision-making process, rather than simply handing over the mandate. I wish they had put together a task force made up of business owners and asked for their advice and suggestions.

Holding a public hearing after the term of office expires is a bit like closing the door of the proverbial barn after the horse has left.

Now we find ourselves with a divided community. We’ll have to see how it goes. I sincerely hope that we can move beyond division and come together again as a city that I have grown to love so much.

Alex Armstrong lives in Brunswick.

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