The Maine Department of Health and Human Services office on Main Street in Lewiston was closed after the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a case of COVID-19 there. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The Maine Department of Health and Human Services office at 200 Main Street was closed Wednesday as a second worker there tested positive for COVID-19.

“As you may know, a second employee who works out of the Lewiston Office has tested positive for COVID-19,” DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew wrote in an email sent at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. “We wish this employee all the best and a speedy recovery. We learned of this news today and are subsequently relaying it to you, now that CDC has finished its work. 

“The employee last worked out of the Lewiston office several days prior to its closure and thorough cleaning last week.” Lambrew wrote. “Maine CDC has notified the close contacts of the affected employee and advised them on appropriate precautions. . . The affected employee’s role neither involves visiting clients at their homes nor significantly engaging with the public in the Lewiston office. Out of abundance of caution, the office will be closed until further notice.” 

At least one other office worker was being tested for coronavirus, according to several sources, although the results of those tests were not yet known. 

Workers had been recalled to the Lewiston office on Monday, with Lambrew in attendance for the re-opening. But almost immediately, the move set off a flurry of complaints from people concerned about the further spread of the virus. 

Officials at the Maine Service Employees Association had been expressing concerns about the way the COVID-19 cases had been handled after the first case emerged at the DHHS Lewiston office. 

“We are extremely troubled that supervisors at 200 Main Street were aware of this situation and yet failed to inform the other employees at his worksite,” wrote Tom Feeley, general counsel with the MSEA Local 1989. “This is all the more troubling now that there is a second case at the same office – this one with the confirmed positive test. The timeline suggests that the first employee may have exposed the second employee. There is no telling how many others may have been exposed in the office, or how many people the second employee may have exposed over this period that DHHS sat on the information.” 

On Tuesday, as Gov. Janet Mills issued a stay-at-home order, the MSEA took issue with what they feel is a double standard in Mills’ handling of the crisis — and not only as it applies to the DHHS. 

“The over 12,000 workers represented by the Maine Service Employees Association,” wrote Dean Staffieri, president of the MSEA Local 1989, “call on Governor Mills to apply the same rules she announced today to the very same worksites she oversees as governor: state of Maine worksites. Gov. Mills says nonessential Maine workers should stay home, yet many state of Maine workers whose jobs are not directly related to responding to the COVID-19 crisis are being required to report to work as usual. 

“Over the past two weeks,” Staffieri continued, “hundreds of state workers have written to Gov. Mills about their concerns about being required to report to work to crowded offices with adjacent cubicles, at Maine (Department of Transportation) worksites lacking adequate personal protective equipment like hand sanitizers and at other worksites where they fear exposure to COVID-19. 

“Workers are scared,” Staffieri wrote. “They’re extremely concerned the governor’s own managers are refusing to inform employees about suspected or potential exposure to coronavirus unless there is a confirmed positive test result in their workspaces. We have encouraged the governor’s management to treat every suspected case as a potential positive and to give workers as much notice as possible, particularly in light of the nationwide shortage of tests, but to date they have not agreed to do so.” 

In announcing the closure of the DHHS Lewiston office, Lambrew did not speculate on when it might open again.

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