Lewiston, Auburn not planning any new COVID precautions

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Jan. 6—LEWISTON — City officials in Lewiston and Auburn said there are no plans to institute new COVID-19 precautions in the wake of Portland's recent decision to mandate masks indoors due to a rise in cases.

Administration from both cities said Thursday that while they support and follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no additional public precautions are on the table. The cities are generally allowing businesses and individuals to decide which precautions to take, making changes to citywide measures "as needed."

Heather Hunter, Lewiston city administrator, said her office continues to support CDC guidance that recommends masks, and getting vaccinated, but that "struggling employers and businesses are in the best position to take the necessary action needed on their own and what works best for them."

She said masks have been mandated for some city departments from time to time as needed, but are not mandated across the board. Recently, the Lewiston Public Library announced a temporary closure due to the uptick in cases, and along with the Lewiston Armory had been requiring masks in the building, in order to follow "similar requirements as the School Department," she said.

The library is scheduled to reopen Jan. 18.

Mayor Carl Sheline said there hadn't been internal discussions on any new protocols, but said Thursday that he continues to encourage people to get vaccinated, boosted, and wear masks indoors. He said it only "makes sense" to make sure people can continue going to work, and so people can "feel safe to venture out in Lewiston."

"It's important to use the tools that we have at this time," he said.

Sheline said he ate at DaVinci's Eatery on Thursday, which made a "Mayor's Lasagna" special in honor of the new mayor, and felt safe as servers wore masks and other precautions were in place.

As COVID-19 case counts have surged due to the omicron variant, some municipalities have been revisiting or putting forth new measures to curb the spread. Portland's decision on Jan. 3 instituted an indoor mask mandate for most public places in Maine's largest city, after cities like Boston passed similar measures.

City officials in Gardiner are requiring that masks be worn at public meetings in the city and at the Gardiner Public Library. During the recent inaugurations in Lewiston and Auburn, roughly half of elected officials opted to wear a mask, and roughly the same breakdown has continued during public meetings so far this year.

As of Monday, 68.1% of people 5 and older in Androscoggin County were considered fully vaccinated, compared to 75.2% statewide. The positivity rate in Androscoggin County, at 1,465 cases per 10,000 residents, exceeds the state average of 1,127, and is the highest of any county in the state.

In Auburn, City Administrator Phil Crowell said the city has strived to "meet in the middle with a safe and reasonable response and by following CDC guidelines."

"The city of Auburn has taken the position that we must identify solutions to keep businesses, services, schools, and recreation open and accessible," he said. "We are doing this, as always, with safety as our top priority, as demonstrated with the recent New Year's Auburn event.

He said city staff regularly discusses the situation and makes policy adjustments, with Deputy Fire Chief Matthew Fifield guiding staff on COVID-19 quarantines, testing and other issues. He said the city has increased its supply of COVID-19 tests and are "ramping up" for the federal vaccine mandate for employers with 1o0 workers or more.

Mayor Jason Levesque said Thursday that he believes in "individuals taking a pragmatic approach based upon the situation and risk level for themselves and others, versus a never ending stream of mandates made by elected officials that are just designed to make themselves feel good for trying to do something regardless of its effectiveness."