PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A Maine county commissioner is continuing a campaign to stop the enforcement of the state’s mandatory mask order, despite rulings by the state’s highest court that the orders are legal.
Androscoggin County Commissioner Isaiah Lary, a Republican, is involved in a spat with state officials over mask rules. He proposed a resolution on Wednesday that stated no county official can enforce masking orders in the county, which is home to Lewiston, the state's second-largest city.
Lary also wants the county administrator to ask the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for a declaration that the orders are unconstitutional, the Sun Journal reported.
Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey has already told the county once that the state's masking orders are constitutional. Frey sent a letter to commissioners last week that said “counties, municipalities and other political subdivisions have no authority to exempt themselves from executive orders, and any effort to do so would be of no legal effect,” the Sun Journal reported.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and numerous other state, national and international health authorities have repeatedly stated that masking is an essential step to slow the spread of coronavirus. The effectiveness of masks has “a level of certitude" rarely seen in many public health subjects, Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said Thursday.
The Androscoggin County Commission could potentially vote on Lary's proposed resolution at a Feb. 17 meeting. A previous resolution of his on the same subject was tabled.
Lary is one of three Androscoggin commissioners facing a potential recall vote over the issue of masks. A local citizens group is seeking to recall the commissioners for their opposition to masking orders.
In other pandemic news in Maine:
The latest average positivity rate in Maine is 3.1%. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Maine, the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test specimens using data from The COVID Tracking Project.
The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 4.51% on Jan. 27 to 3.1% on Feb. 10.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 42,000 positive cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic. It has also reported 641 deaths.
Shah said the 175 new positive cases reported on Thursday are the lowest number reported since early November.
Paycheck Protection Program loans given to small businesses in Maine are approaching $500 million so far this year.
More than 6,000 small employers have been approved for more than $460 million since the program reopened last month, Republican Sen. Susan Collins said. More than 28,000 small businesses in the state received $2.3 billion in such loans last year, the senator said.
Collins, who was the co-author of the Paycheck Protection Program, said the program is “sustaining jobs across our state and providing essential support to Maine’s small businesses that have endured an extraordinarily challenging year.”
Second PPP loans are available to small businesses that employ 300 or fewer workers and suffered a gross revenue loss of 25% or more due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland said Thursday that Ash Wednesday will look a little different for Maine's Catholics this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ash Wednesday is Feb. 17. Priests and ministers usually mark a cross of ashes on parishioners' foreheads as part of the holy day.
The diocese said in a statement that this year the priest or minister will take a pinch of ashes and sprinkle it over the crown of the parishioner's head in the shape of a cross.