Delvino’s Grill and Pasta House received a complaint on Indigenous Peoples Day, Oct. 12, from a person who refused to eat at the restaurant after noticing through an open door that its kitchen staff were not wearing face masks or shields.

Michael Rapoport was traveling through Belfast on business Oct. 12 and made a reservation to eat at Delvino’s. He said he tries to support local businesses while he is in Maine by eating and staying at locally owned restaurants and hotels.

When he saw that there were no face masks on staff preparing food, a waitress justified the practice by telling him that it is very hot in the kitchen and the kitchen staff does not interact with the public. But Rapoport said he thought that was not a good enough answer because kitchen staff interact with the wait staff, who in turn interact with the public.

He said he left the establishment and ate at another local restaurant where he was assured that kitchen staff at that location wear face shields.

When he returned to his home in North Grafton, Mass., he tried to talk with Belfast’s health official about the matter, but was told that nobody could answer his call right now and to file a complaint with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, which he did.

Rapoport received a call Oct. 23 from City Manager Erin Herbig, who said the situation had been addressed. He said she seemed abrupt with him and ended the call quickly after saying her response was a courtesy call.

He said the conversation left him feeling slighted and that in over 30 years of traveling in Maine he had never had a negative experience like that. Herbig declined to comment on the Oct. 23 phone call.

Delvino’s owner Tina Delsanto, who is also co-owner of The Harbor Walk Restaurant and Front Street Pub, said she had not been requiring her kitchen staff to wear face masks because she did not think they had to, since they were not interacting directly with the public. After conversations with the Belfast Police Department and Herbig, she said, she is aware of how the COVID-19 mandate is supposed to be interpreted and the kitchen staff now wear face coverings.

The state’s updated coronavirus mandates Oct. 13 state that businesses shall “…implement measures requiring customers and employees to wear face coverings in publicly accessible areas consistent with guidance.”

All of her restaurants sanitize and clean tables and objects like credit card holders and menus after each use, Delsanto said. The kitchens are cleaned using bleach and pH strips according to standards established by the state.

She said she was surprised that one person would call several agencies to report the issue when there are still a number of people flouting mask mandates in public. “There’s such a dramatic amount of people not wearing masks,” she said. “It’s surprising one person would call the state, city and press.”

Herbig would not speak about this situation specifically, but said in an email to The Republican Journal that the city is working with local businesses to make sure they are adhering to coronavirus mandates. The police department receives complaints about local businesses from the state and helps educate businesses about the requirements.

Belfast Police Chief Gerald Lincoln said his department has received several complaints from the state about local businesses not complying with COVID-19 executive orders since the pandemic began.

He said the department’s role is to educate businesses about the mandates. The department has not received more than one complaint about the same business after he has spoken to them about the mandates.

Lincoln said most of the time business owners receiving complaints did not know about certain aspects of the requirements, or they misinterpreted them. He added that his department will not issue fines for noncompliance with coronavirus mandates.

When The Journal asked Herbig about the city's policy regarding reports of restaurants not following CDC guidelines and possible penalties for noncompliance she wrote in an email that "Police Chief Lincoln and Deputy Chief Jackson work with the Attorney General’s office to respond to complaints received at both the state and municipal level. The City of Belfast has worked with and will continue to work with businesses to educate them about the current Executive Order to ensure that the public is safe and that their business can continue to operate in this challenging economy."

Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the CDC’s health inspection program works to educate restaurants about the mandates, and if they continue to violate the requirements, the program can issue an imminent health hazard notification that can result in a temporary license suspension.

He said municipalities can impose penalties on establishments violating coronavirus mandates. Rapoport said Delvino’s should have received a fine and should have been shut down until an industrial cleaning company sanitized the establishment.

It is the common practice for Massachusetts government to close down restaurants that violate coronavirus mandates until they have been cleaned, he said, adding that he found it hard to believe Delvino's management misinterpreted the mandate.

“I always thought Maine was a lot stricter with COVID-19 than Massachusetts,” he said. But now he wonders how seriously people in Maine take the virus.