Old Port

Portland Ramps Up Oversight of Bars, Restaurants After Viral Photo of Crowd

Business owners and city officials say they are upset at the lack of social distancing in Old Port amid the coronavirus

NBC Universal, Inc.

After a photo went viral on social media over the weekend showing a crowd of young people without wearing masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, city officials in Portland, Maine, are ramping up oversight of bars and restaurants.

The viral photo taken in Old Port circulated online early Saturday morning after getting reposted by business owners and city officials upset at the lack of social distancing and lack of precautions taken to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"People sent me messages all morning," Portland city councilor Spencer Thibodeau told NECN and NBC10 Boston affiliate NEWS CENTER Maine over the weekend.

Within hours of becoming aware of the images, leaders in Portland announced an increase in the presence of code enforcement and police officers in the Old Port, centered around the Wharf Street area where the photos were taken.

"Anytime there's a gathering of people, the city is aware and concerned," Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said on Monday.

The mayor said her message to the young crowd and anyone on a narrow street with lots of people is, "if you cannot achieve physical distance, the guidance is wear a mask."

Asked about specific businesses like Bonfire Country Bar, on Wharf Street, which was among the establishments receiving criticism from Portlanders and nearby business owners for allowing the crowds, Snyder echoed a statement from the bar itself saying, "establishments like Bonfire don't really have jurisdiction over how people gather on the sidewalk."

Snyder also said that different pictures taken at different angles and times on Friday showed various levels of crowding and to address future concerns, the city will once again send more police and code enforcement teams out onto the streets from Thursday to Saturday nights to look for violations.

"I don't want to demonize people who were out," Snyder said.

Down Wharf Street, at Independent Ice Co., a bar and restaurant with a patio outside, general manager Gary Savage said the negative image the crowds cast on the street concerned him and he hoped anyone not wearing masks would make people rethink their decision.

"We're worried," he said. "Unfortunately, you're seeing this one area that everyone's talking about that doesn't represent 99% of the Old Port. It's up to us… what one person or one business does literally impacts everyone."

During a news briefing on Monday, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah was asked what people who were in the crowd over the weekend should do if they were concerned with the overcrowding.

Shah said he would recommend they get a COVID-19 test, which he believed would be covered by a standing state order on testing, saying they should be able to be obtained if someone called their healthcare provider or testing site ahead of seeking the test.

Contact Us