AUBURN — Officials declared a city emergency Wednesday, hours before a statewide shelter-in-place order is set to take effect.

In a news release, Mayor Jason Levesque and City Manager Peter Crichton, who had previously decided to hold off on calling an emergency, said Auburn residents must follow Gov. Janet Mills’ “Stay Healthy at Home” order and may not congregate in Auburn parks and open spaces.

“The threat of COVID-19 is alarmingly real, and we want to do everything we can to protect the people of Auburn,” Levesque said.

The state of emergency will remain in effect until rescinded by Levesque and Crichton. Assistant City Manager Phil Crowell has been designated the city’s emergency management director.

“Auburn’s city government fully recognizes this very real public health emergency we are facing, and we are making the tough decisions necessary to respond,” Crichton said. “I want our residents and businesses to know that our team is working around the clock to protect this community.”

According to Wednesday’s news release, Auburn’s emergency declaration comes in response to the growing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state and the risk of community spread, and orders that “all Auburn residents and businesses will adhere to the national and state of Maine emergency declarations.”

The order will be enforced by law enforcement as necessary, officials said. Violations are a Class E crime subject to up to six months days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

“Additionally, compliance may also be enforced by government officials who regulate licenses, permits or any other authorization to operate a business or occupy a building,” the release states.

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.

Other major municipalities in Maine declared emergencies earlier in March. Lewiston declared an emergency  March 17, but cities in Androscoggin County had stopped short of issuing shelter-in-place orders largely due to a low case count compared to Cumberland County.

Last week, Levesque told the Sun Journal he did not think an emergency declaration was needed in Auburn — yet.

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.”

The emergency declaration Wednesday also urges landlords to suspend evictions during the emergency. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court recently ordered that new eviction cases will not be heard or scheduled by any Maine court before May 1.

“The people of Auburn are resilient, and they care deeply for one another, Levesque said. “This proclamation is intended to help our residents and our staff to stay safe, healthy, and adhere to the Governor’s order,” Levesque said. “We need to work together to make sure COVID-19 doesn’t overwhelm our incredible community. This is a serious situation, and I’m asking everyone to stay home and do your part. When in doubt, please don’t go out.”

Following Mills’ order Tuesday, both Twin Cities mayors issued statements in support of the shelter-in-place order. Both cities acted over the past week to close or restrict public access to parks and recreational areas to enforce proper social distancing.

In his statement, Levesque implored residents to only leave home when absolutely necessary.

“Stay home, Auburn,” he said. “By working together and staying vigilant in the weeks to come, we can and will protect those in our community who are most vulnerable, as well as ourselves, our families and our neighbors.”

Lewiston Mayor Mark Cayer told the Sun Journal late Tuesday that he supports the statewide shelter-in-place order. Last week, as he was still mulling the decision in Lewiston, he said he hoped for a statewide order to avoid municipalities not following the same guidelines.

“I have strongly advocated that this patchwork approach that was taking place at the state and national level was not the most effective way to bend the curve and I recently shared my opinion with Gov. Mills,” he said. “History has shown us in the 1918 pandemic and the more recent history of COVID-19, that to reduce deaths and to protect our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, it would require aggressive action in a more regional approach. Now hopefully we as a state can do all we can to protect our health care workers, the true heroes in the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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