The Ellsworth City Hall. Credit: Gabor Degre | bdn

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ELLSWORTH, Maine — Ellsworth councilors voted Thursday night to bar anyone looking to distance themselves from the coronavirus outbreak from staying at the city’s lodging through the end of April.

Only people who are traveling to Ellsworth for essential work, who receive public assistance from the city for housing, or who are there to care for a local family member will be allowed to stay at hotels, motels, campgrounds or short-term rentals.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

The restriction ends May 1, but could be extended if health officials continue to urge the public to isolate themselves in order to combat the spread of COVID-19 which, according to the World Health Organization, has sickened nearly 900,000 people and caused the deaths of more than 45,000 around the globe.

The council voted 6-1 to adopt the ordinance. The lone dissenter, Councilor Marc Blanchette, said he was concerned the measure would be unenforceable and would send the wrong message to people who come to the area for summer vacation.

“Are we asking Americans to stay out of Ellsworth?” Blanchette said during the meeting, which was held by videoconference. “If we are, then it is a new day in Ellsworth.”

Other councilors said the city should take a strong stand to protect its residents and that taking such a measure would help ensure that Ellsworth is ready to welcome visitors by the time the summer tourist season gets underway near the end of May.

If there is a spike of COVID-19 cases in Ellsworth because people in more contaminated areas come to the city and unknowingly bring it with them, it could overwhelm the local hospital and other medical services, according to Councilor Michelle Kaplan, who works as a licensed physician’s assistant at Mount Desert Island Hospital.

“We don’t have the resources to take care of the masses if people don’t follow [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendations” against travel, Kaplan said. “Please don’t come from out of state right now.”

Glenn Moshier, the city’s police chief, told councilors that though there could be challenges to enforcing the ordinance, his department likely would not expend a lot of effort to find violators. Police officers will not be looking for out-of-state license plates on cars in parking lots, but will inform local lodging businesses of the ordinance and urge them to comply, he said. Police also would look into any credible tips they might receive about the measure being violated.

Dale Hamilton, chairman of the council, said though the restriction could prove difficult to thoroughly enforce, it is important to let the public know the city is addressing the issue.

“At this point, in the month of April, this is not the place to be,” Hamilton said. “Sending that message is the right thing to do.”

The council also voted on other measures aimed at limiting the spread of the disease.

It unanimously adopted a symbolic resolution urging everyone to abide by public health recommendations to not travel, to maintain appropriate physical distance from other people, and to self-quarantine for two weeks if they do travel to and stay in Ellsworth.

The council also unanimously suspended for the month the city’s requirement for residents to pay for stickers that have to be placed on bags of household trash, which can either be placed by the curb for pickup or dropped off at the city’s transfer station. The measure is aimed at not forcing people to leave their homes to go buy trash bag stickers.

Some councilors noted there could be issues with people abusing the temporary waiver on the sticker requirement, but said they could address that at a later date if it proves to be a problem.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....