Town Meetings

COVID19 Prevention Checklist Industry Guidance

Last updated: Apr 5, 2021

The State of Maine has adopted a multi-layered approach to COVID-19 guidance—supported by science, public health expertise, and industry collaboration—to help Maine businesses and community organizations operate safely. As we enter the second year of the pandemic, these updated guidelines highlight the importance of employing multi-layered mitigation strategies to keep Maine businesses, employees, and residents as safe as possible from COVID-19 transmission. Public health guidance will continue to evolve as we learn which mitigation strategies most effectively reduce transmission risk.

No single measure or action will completely prevent transmission of COVID-19. Use of multiple strategies—sometimes called layered mitigation—provides greater protection than implementing a single strategy alone. When multiple mitigation strategies—including masking, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and ventilation—are consistently and correctly used, risk of transmission is decreased. 

Please make sure you pair this industry-specific guidance with general guidance available at https://www.maine.gov/decd/covid-19-prevention-checklists.

For the latest information on travel policies and Executive Orders related to COVID-19 visit the Office of the Governor’s COVID-19 Response website: https://www.maine.gov/covid19.

Please note: This document may be updated as additional information and resources become available.

Town Meetings

Group gatherings such as town meetings bring people from different households into close contact with each other and have the potential to increase COVID-19 transmission. The primary tools to control the spread of COVID-19 are to reduce exposure to respiratory droplets through physical distancing, gathering limits, and masks, increase hand hygiene, and avoid shared items and common touch surfaces. The goals of this guidance are to protect meeting participants, workers, and the local community from COVID-19 infection.

Approaches for Holding a Town Meeting

The Governor’s Executive Order 56 FY 19/20 is based on the premise that the right to debate and vote as well as public health and safety can be protected with procedures specially designed for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. A town meeting may be conducted within the current gathering limitation while protecting public health through the use of physical distancing and appropriately spaced seating, use of masks, restricting the shared use of microphones, cleaning and disinfection and other requirements identified by the MECDC. Executive Order 35 FY 20/21 amended Executive Order 56 FY 19/20 to increase the gathering limit, as further explained below.

Gathering limits as further established by the Governor's Executive Order are subject to the following limits:

  1. Indoor gatherings are subject to the following limits:
    1. Effective March 26, 2021 through May 23, 2021: 50% of permitted occupancy or 50 persons (or 5 people per 1,000 square feet for retail establishments), whichever is greater.
    2. Effective May 24, 2021 and thereafter: 75% of permitted occupancy or 50 persons(or 5 people per 1,000 square feet for retail establishments), whichever is greater.
  2. Any outdoor gathering taking place at a facility or event that is subject to a permitted occupancy limit is subject to the following limits:
    1. Effective March 26, 2021 through May 23, 2021: 75% of permitted occupancy.
    2. Effective May 24, 2021 and thereafter: 100% of permitted occupancy.

Operational Guidance

  1. The number of individuals that gather in a shared space—either indoor or outdoor—must be limited in accordance with the gatherings limits set forth above. When scheduling a town meeting, town officials should have a backup plan so that voters are not turned away in the event the total number of people exceeds that allowed under the gathering limits. When there is a likelihood that there may be more than the allowed number of people in attendance at a town meeting, including voters, clerks, and town officials, a town might consider a drive-in meeting or an alternative mode of holding the meeting.
  2. Voter seating must be spaced at least 6 feet apart. Voters may be encouraged to bring their own seating. Spacing delineated in advance (e.g., floor markings, spray paint, field paint, stakes and ribbons) is encouraged. Accommodations must be made for participants with disabilities.
  3. The moderator must be visible and able to be heard by all attendees.
  4. All voters should be able to hear and participate in discussion and to vote on motions, in a manner consistent with physical distancing and adherence to the disinfection guidelines, with accommodations for voters with disabilities.
  5. If used, microphones should not be passed person to person. Consider using a microphone stand and requesting that participants not touch the microphone, with a plan to clean and disinfect microphones if participants do not follow guidelines.
  6. Any written ballot voting must be conducted using ballot clerks or tellers to distribute and/or collect ballots from each voter using a receptacle for collection of ballots.
  7. A separate location must be provided for non-voters or the public to view and listen to the proceedings.

Public Health Considerations

  1. All persons must wear a mask at all times (e.g., during check-in, when registering to vote, when picking up or dropping off ballots).
  2. Voter lines outside the polling place shall enforce a 6-foot separation between waiting voters and line area shall be marked with signage and ground lines designed to impose that distancing.
  3. Tents with at least two sides open for ventilation may be used.
  4. If providing portable toilets, make sure they are stocked with hand hygiene products and are sufficient in number to avoid the development of lines. Develop a plan for ensuring compliance with physical distancing requirements in the portable restroom area.

Drive-in town meetings

Operational Guidance

  1. The number of individuals that gather in a shared space must be limited in accordance with pertinent Executive Orders from the Office of the Governor, as described above. However, individuals enclosed in their vehicles do not count against the gathering limit, provided they leave their vehicles only as necessary to speak or use the restroom facilities and return promptly to their vehicles without gathering.
  2. The meeting must be located in a single enclosed outdoor area sufficient for vehicles to be spaced a minimum of six feet apart. Spacing delineated in advance (e.g., spray paint, field paint, stakes and ribbons) is encouraged. “Enclosed” means a delineated area for which access and egress are controlled.
  3. One or more limited points of entry must be provided for vehicles to check in with the registrar/deputy registrar.
  4. There should be a separate line and a plan to divert those needing to register to vote to a separate line for registration.
  5. Voters must be provided colored cards of sufficient size to allow “show of hands” voting through vehicle window openings. 
  6. The moderator should be visible and able to be heard by all attendees.
  7. All voters should be able to hear and participate in discussion and vote on motions, in a manner consistent with physical distancing and adherence to the disinfection guidelines, with accommodations for voters with disabilities.
  8. When written ballot voting is required, it must be conducted using ballot clerks or tellers to distribute and/or collect ballots from each vehicle using a receptacle to collect ballots.
  9. Adequate seating and spacing must be provided for voters unable to attend in a vehicle.
  10. A separate location must be provided for non-voters or the public to view and listen to the proceedings.

Public Health Considerations

  1. Participants interacting with workers must wear a mask (e.g., during check-in, when registering to vote, when picking up or dropping off ballots). Planners should post signage near the entrance to make clear participants must use masks when checking in, even if in a vehicle.
  2. Planners should develop a plan for ensuring compliance with physical distancing requirements and to limit gathering in areas where participants are outside of their vehicles (e.g., restroom facilities, queueing areas for public comment, areas for voters unable to attend in a vehicle). Consider placing signage, demarcating 6-foot distances on the ground, and/or using line and crowd control workers to ensure compliance.
  3. Planners should take steps to minimize shared touch points and person-to-person interaction during check in and when distributing and collecting ballots.
    1. Towns should consider using a ballot receptacle that allows participants to easily insert their ballot from their vehicles while avoiding contact with shared touch surfaces and the ballot collector.

Indoor town meetings using multiple rooms within one facility

Operational Guidance

  1. The meeting must occur within one facility. Planners must take into account both space limitations and gathering limits established by Executive Order when determining how many participants can be in each space. For instance, if a town will be using multiple rooms in a school for the meeting, each separate room may not exceed gathering limits. Additionally, the number of people in each room must allow for 6 feet of physical distancing. When scheduling a town meeting, town officials should have a backup plan so that voters are not turned away in the event the total number of people exceeds room capacity. 
  2. Strict separation between meeting rooms must be maintained to prevent free passage between rooms, with the exception of ballot clerks, tellers, and deputy moderators.
  3. To the extent feasible, multiple entrances and exits must be used to increase physical separation of voters. A plan to distribute voters between meeting rooms must be established in advance of the meeting.
  4. Groups of people who are not physically distancing must be prohibited from congregating in common areas (lobbies, hallways, lawn areas, etc.). Planners should also mark off parking spaces so as to minimize gathering of people outside before, during and after the meeting.
  5. At a minimum, intercoms, microphones or similar technology must be provided to maintain adequate and continuous ability for all present to hear all discussion, motions and voting in each meeting room in real time. Video technology is encouraged.
  6. A deputy moderator must be present in each meeting room.
  7. When written ballot voting is required, it must be conducted using ballot clerks or tellers to distribute and/or collect ballots from each voter for counting in a central location under the supervision of the moderator.
  8. An overflow room must be provided with audio capability for non-voters or members of the public to hear the meeting.

Public Health Considerations

  1. Meeting participants must wear a mask at all times. 
  2. Planners should provide an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol for use before entering and exiting separate meeting rooms.
  3. Voter lines outside the polling place shall enforce a 6-foot separation between waiting voters and line area shall be marked with signage and ground lines designed to impose that distancing.
  4. Towns should develop a plan for ensuring compliance with physical distancing requirements and the gathering limit in any common areas outside of the meeting spaces (e.g. restrooms). Consider placing signage, demarcating 6-foot distances on the ground, and/or using line and crowd control workers to ensure compliance.
  5. Towns should modify traffic flow at the meeting location to minimize contact between individuals. Use floor decals and/or signage to establish travel patterns.
  6. If common entrances and exits must be used, planners should stagger arrivals and departures of meeting spaces to the extent practicable to avoid crowding.
  7. Individuals may sit within 6 feet of members of their household group.

General Guidance

  1. Towns must require all individuals to maintain 6 feet of physical distance from individuals who are not part of their household group whenever possible.
  2. The number of individuals that can gather in a shared space must not exceed the limit established by the Governor’s Executive Order. Municipal leaders should evaluate the location(s) of their town meeting and determine the number of individuals that can safely enter while maintaining physical distance. If a space cannot accommodate both the gathering limit and the 6-foot distancing requirement, occupancy in that space must be limited to allow for such compliance. If planners anticipate more attendees than may comply with these requirements, they should find an alternative space or an alternative mode of conducting the meeting
  3. Towns should require individuals to wear a face covering, per CDC recommendations and Executive Order from the Office of the Governor.
    1. Because participants may be in an indoor space for a prolonged period, they must wear masks at all times, even when physically distanced.
    2. Information about proper use of masks is available from the CDC (see: Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19).

Workers

  1. Based on currently available information and clinical expertise, older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions may be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. For the most up to date information on this topic, see US CDC guidance on conditions that place individuals at increased risk of severe illness (see: People with Certain Medical Conditions). Workers (e.g., clerks, other municipal staff, volunteers) should consider whether they can work safely if they have any of these conditions.
  2. Workers should stay at home if they are sick. Municipal officials should ask all workers to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms using either of the following approaches:
    1. Use an electronic or app-based self-screening form, such as the Coronavirus Self-Checker available on the federal CDC’s homepage.
    2. Self-screen using the following questions:
      1. Do you feel ill or have you been caring for someone who is ill?
      2. In the past two weeks, have you been exposed to anyone who tested positive for COVID-19?
  3. Towns should adjust any training practices to limit the number of people involved and allow for 6 foot spacing; use virtual/video/audio training when possible.
  4. Towns should provide workers training on:
    1. hand hygiene
    2. physical distancing guidelines and expectations
    3. monitoring personal health
    4. proper wear, removal, and disposal of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
    5. cleaning protocols, including how to safely and effectively use cleaning supplies: Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools and Homes (CDC)
  5. Towns should encourage workers to practice good hand hygiene and wash hands frequently, especially after contact with individuals, high-touch surfaces, and/or ballots. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  6. Voters, clerks, workers, and officials present at the meeting should be discouraged from greeting others with physical contact (e.g., handshakes).
  7. Planners should provide for a room or space where an individual who becomes ill during the meeting can be isolated until transferred to home or a health care facility and provided a mask, if available and tolerated.

Cleaning and Disinfection

  1. Refer to the following documents for guidance on general cleaning and disinfection:
    1. COVID-19 Prevention Checklist General Guidance (State of Maine)
    2. Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility (CDC)
    3. Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools and Homes (CDC)

Building and Operational Considerations

  1. If holding a town meeting indoors, take steps to improve ventilation in the building.
    1. Increase the percentage of outdoor air (e.g., using economizer modes of HVAC operations) potentially as high as 100% (first verify compatibility with HVAC system capabilities for both temperature and humidity control as well as compatibility with outdoor/indoor air quality considerations).
    2. Increase total airflow supply to occupied spaces, if possible.
    3. Disable demand-control ventilation (DCV) controls that reduce air supply based on temperature or occupancy.
    4. Use natural ventilation (i.e., opening windows if possible and safe to do so) to increase outdoor air dilution of indoor air when environmental conditions and building requirements allow
    5. Consider relocating operations to outdoor spaces or other nontraditional venues that allow for increased airflow, if possible.
  2. Towns should take steps to ensure that all water systems and features (for example, drinking fountains) are safe to use after a prolonged facility shutdown to minimize the risk of disease. Further guidance is available from the CDC (see: Guidance for Reopening Buildings After Prolonged Shutdown or Reduced Operation).
  3. Consider restricting the use of water fountains to refill only with instruction for individuals to wash or sanitize hands after use.
  4. Consider installing non-porous physical barriers such as partitions or plexiglass barriers to protect workers and meeting participants. Barriers should be placed at check-in tables and other similar locations where it is difficult to maintain a minimum of 6 feet of physical distance.
  5. Limit activities that require staff and/or visitors to enter within 6 feet of another person, regardless of whether physical barriers are installed.
  6. Inform meeting participants of your COVID-19 policies and procedures in advance, if possible, via website, newsletters, social media channels, newspaper, etc.
  7. Place signage at entrances and throughout meeting area (particularly high traffic areas such as check-in tables) alerting workers and meeting participants to required occupancy limits, physical distancing requirements, face covering policies, and signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
  8. Ensure that doors are propped open, as applicable, so meeting participants do not have to touch door handles. Do not prop open doors if doing so poses a safety risk. Consult with your local fire department concerning safety regulations.
  9. Eliminate lines to the greatest extent practicable. Where lines are unavoidable, ensure 6 feet of distance between individuals. This can be accomplished by demarcating 6-foot distances on floors or walls. When developing a plan for managing lines, consider the various locations were lines may form, including check-in tables, ballot boxes, public comment queuing areas, and restrooms.
  10. Modify traffic flow at the meeting location to minimize contact between individuals. Use floor decals and/or signage to establish travel patterns.
    1. Consider establishing a one-way travel pattern.
    2. Consider one-way entrances and exits.
    3. Minimize traffic in enclosed spaces, such as elevators and stairwells and other spaces that do not allow for appropriate physical distancing. Consider limiting the number of individuals in an elevator at one time and designating one directional stairwells.
  11. Ensure adequate supplies (e.g., soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer, tissue) to support healthy hygiene practices and increased cleaning and disinfection procedures.
  12. Each meeting location should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected prior to and after the town meeting.
  13. Take steps to minimize shared touch items.
    1. Microphones should not be passed person-to-person. Consider using a microphone stand and requesting that meeting participants do not touch the microphone. Develop a plan to clean and disinfect microphones if participants do not follow guidelines.
    2. Provide meeting participants with disposable pens or pencils for marking ballots, where possible. Consider having meeting participants take writing implements home or deposit them in a box for cleaning, disinfection, and reuse.
  14. Ensure that garbage cans are available upon exit of the meeting location for safe disposal of any gloves, masks, or tissues.
  15. Provide an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol for use before entering and exiting the meeting location. Consider placing hand sanitizer in visible, frequently used locations such as check-in desks and exits.
  16. To limit the duration of potential exposure to COVID-19, consider shortening the duration of the town meeting to the greatest extent practicable.
  17. Ensure that staffing is sufficient to enable compliance with guidelines. Consider assigning the following responsibilities to workers to ensure compliance:
    1. Line control worker: Remind meeting participants in line to maintain 6 feet of distance; offer masks to meeting participants without them, if available.
    2. Crowd control worker: Regulate the number of people allowed in the meeting space(s) to comply with gathering limit requirements.
    3. Cleaning and disinfection worker: Clean and disinfect frequently touched surface including tables, handles, etc.

Restrooms

  1. Limit restroom occupancy for group restrooms to incorporate physical distancing and avoid formation of waiting lines outside of restrooms.
  2. Ensure bathrooms at the polling station are supplied adequately with soap, water and drying materials.
  3. Clean and disinfect restrooms on a regular and scheduled basis (see General Cleaning and Disinfection section).
  4. Post handwashing signs in all restrooms.