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Complaints, viral Instagram post force Portland officials to promise Old Port coronavirus guideline crackdown

An Instagram post shows scores of people around Wharf St. restaurants in Portland on Friday night with no social distancing and no signs of coronavirus masks

PORTLAND, Maine — City of Portland officials are warning Old Port businesses Saturday; follow the state's coronavirus rules, or face penalties. 

An Instagram photo posted late Friday night seems to show dozens, maybe hundreds of people in and around the Wharf St. area with no social distancing and no signs of any masks of any kind. 

User ilmalopez said in her post, "Please as a mom, as a wife of someone that suffers from allergies and has a hard time breathing as a immigrant and daughter from immigrants parents whom the system won’t protect if we get sick, as a business owner that has been closed for 3 months and 2 weeks and figuring how to keep their team, guest and city safe... please wear a mask, please practice social distance. I am happy to see you are out and supporting local businesses, thank you for that. Just be mindful that we would like to stay open and we want to be here for you,, * keep yourselves and others safe * be kind, be respectful."

NEWS CENTER Maine has reached out to the user, but has not heard back at this time to verify the exact time and place of the photo.  NEWS CENTER Maine staff members have seen other verified photos of the area Friday night that depicted a similar scene. 

Jessica Grondin, a spokesperson for the City of Portland, told NEWS CENTER Maine that the city business licensing crew spoke to several owners this morning, so the city has no reason to believe (the Instagram post) is fake. 

Portland City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau saw the post Saturday and took to Facebook to plead with patrons to follow the coronavirus guidelines. 

"Don't ruin the hard work we've all been doing. Wear a DAMN mask 😷. Period. End of post," said Thibodeau.

Grondin additionally said in a press release Saturday afternoon, that the City received multiple reports of violations in the Wharf St. area. 

"The City will have two code enforcement officers plus the police department on Wharf Street tonight to enforce the state's reopening plan," said Grondin. "The City has taken measures to educate businesses on the reopening plan by the state. City staff spoke again this morning to businesses to make sure they understand the requirements and the ramifications if they do not enforce on their own."

Grondin said in the release, if the businesses in the area do not follow the guidelines, the City will be forced to eliminate outdoor dining. 

The state guidelines clearly state that patrons of restaurants should be wearing some face-covering if social distancing cannot be achieved. 

Some Portland establishments have adapted. 

At the Porthole Restaurant and Pub, the owner said he had to take out tables for social distancing.

"We have high tops along the edge. We had to take out every other one, so we lost eight tables there. Everything else we could spread out, so they were 6 feet or more," said owner Kenneth MacGowen.

He said his staff is wearing masks and get their temperature checked when they report for work.

He also said customers couldn't stay at a table for more than an hour and a half.

"We're known as being a place to come and drink. It was hard to let people know we weren't right now; we're a restaurant. Come and eat, have a drink with it, and move on so someone else can come in," said MacGowen.

Grondin reiterated there would be increased enforcement and police presence in the Old Port area Saturday night. 

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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