BELFAST — Councilors will start convening in council chambers again beginning with their first May meeting. The decision came after discussion April 19.

Councilors all agreed that it was necessary to start meeting together again, especially with budget workshops coming up. But some were cautious about the idea, as a new Omicron subvariant is beginning to rise in some areas of the U.S.

Councilor Mike Hurley noted that City Council was one of the last organizations in the city still meeting remotely.

Councilor Paul Dean had asked to have the discussion back in March, but since then the new Omicron subvariant has started spreading in this country. “Since that time, COVID b.a.1 has raised its ugly head, and the numbers have been going up,” he said.

Despite the rising numbers, he still thought it was important to resume meeting in person. He is comfortable with meeting in person as long as COVID-19 numbers do not continue to climb.

Councilor Brenda Bonneville said councilors work better when they meet in person. “I think our communication is much more advantageous and just how we work together as a group, but I feel a little bit cautious,” she said. She also suggested that people remain distanced from each other at the meetings.

Hurley suggested there be a small fan in a window to provide more air flow to the room during meetings. He also suggested having a limited number of seats for members of the public in the council chamber and in the hallway outside the chamber. Dean agreed.

City Manager Erin Herbig said councilors’ desks can be 6 feet apart and still be in view of the cameras. Plastic desk barriers are also available for councilors if they request them. However, distancing public seats by 6 feet in the council chamber will limit the number of people allowed in the meeting to around 10 or 12, she said.

“But we’ve done this before … so we can very easily accommodate what you guys want to do; it’s not that hard, I guess,” she said.

Councilor Mary Mortier said it is not important for all councilors to be visible all the time on the cameras. The cameras can move around the room to face councilors, she said. She also suggested that the public podium be moved farther back in the room.

Hurley noted that areas of the state with high COVID-19 transmission rates do not have as many people vaccinated.

Counties in the northern and eastern parts of the state are at medium community transmission levels, whereas counties along the Midcoast, in the southern and in the western parts of the state are at low transmission levels, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Councilors will resume meeting in person at the May 3 meeting. Council desks and chairs will be spaced apart from each other as a precaution.

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