Apr. 22—AUBURN — City officials have lifted a state of emergency tied to the pandemic that has been in place a year, stating they don't foresee needing to impose further restrictions on top of the current state guidelines.
Mayor Jason Levesque announced the decision at a City Council meeting late Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, he said he had seen some "confusion" as to what rescinding the order means.
According to his news release, the original order "supported and enhanced federal and state emergency declarations," but Levesque said, "At this time, we see no need to have business or gathering restrictions in the city of Auburn beyond what our governor has ordered statewide."
Levesque said lifting the emergency order does not mean Auburn is "going against the governor" or state guidelines, but that it simply sends a message to residents that there is "a light at the end of the tunnel."
He said vaccination rates among older populations and throughout Maine, where half of all adults have received at least one dose, were among metrics officials considered before making the decision this week.
But, while vaccinations continue, Androscoggin County has seen worrying trends as well. The county still leads Maine in positivity rates for COVID-19, which state health officials said is tied to both "focal outbreaks" and "high degrees of community transmission across the county." As cases have risen, so have hospitalizations.
Asked about those trends and the timing of this decision, Levesque said "everybody is going to look at this through their own set of lenses."
"I've had some people reach out and said, 'Wait a second. You don't want people to wear a mask, you don't want people to get vaccinated?' No, that's not the intent. The intent is really to relinquish those powers that are not needed, and that's it."
In Tuesday's announcement, Levesque said, "We need to remain vigilant in our efforts to prevent further spread of COVID-19."
In Lewiston, Mayor Mark Cayer said Wednesday that officials "regularly evaluate our position on the state of emergency using data from the (Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)"
"We will continue to do so," he said. "With warm weather at our doorstep we're hoping the current rise in numbers will take a turn for the better. Our numbers should be a reminder to follow all CDC guidelines."
In general, declaring a state of emergency allows municipalities to exercise broader powers and request state assistance to respond to a crisis, but each municipality operates under its own emergency ordinance.
Auburn's emergency ordinance gives the mayor and city manager sweeping powers to "promulgate such regulations deemed necessary to protect life and property and to preserve critical resources" during an emergency.
The ordinance states such regulations may include, but are not limited to "prohibiting or restricting the movement of vehicles from areas within or without the city;" regulations "necessary to abate, clean up or mitigate whatever hazards exist" and "such other regulations necessary to preserve public peace, health and safety."
Levesque said as vaccination rates have risen, and the "threat level has decreased within Auburn, we do not see the need to take any draconian steps in the future that we had the power to take."
When initially declared on April 1, 2020, officials used the order to strengthen state rules, stating residents must follow Gov. Janet Mills' "Stay Healthy at Home" order. The local emergency declaration was also used to urge landlords to suspend evictions during the emergency. Later orders at the state and federal levels strengthened and extended those guidelines.
City Manager Phil Crowell said Tuesday thatthe pandemic "has reshaped our community and the people who live here. We recognize the significant loss that our citizens and businesses have experienced, and Auburn stands ready to press forward."
According to the city news release, Auburn will continue its education efforts, "sharing and encouraging COVID-19 precautionary practices."
It said staff is also preparing and planning for "the most appropriate and impactful use" of American Rescue Plan funds. The city is slated to receive some $14 million over the next two years, but is awaiting guidelines for how the money can be allocated.