AUBURN — John Michael believes there are fewer COVID-19 deaths than are being reported. He also believes the stay-at-home order and mandatory business closings are ruining the economy.

On Wednesday night, the Androscoggin County Commission chairman urged fellow commissioners to pass a nonbinding resolution pushing to reopen the state’s economy.

“If someone dies of a heart attack or cancer and they’re showing no COVID symptoms and then test positive for carrying the disease, they are listed as a COVID death,” Michael said. “The number of deaths that are being reported are far fewer than what we’re talking about.”

“We are absolutely destroying our economy and no one knows how bad that is going to be,” he added.

Michael, a former state legislator, offered no data supporting his assertion that COVID-19 statistics distributed by Maine officials are inaccurate. He drew up a three-page nonbinding resolution urging Mainers to get back to work.

On Thursday, Oxford County Commissioners Tim Turner, Steve Merrill and David Duguay adopted a proclamation affirming citizens’ constitutional rights, “and we view any infringement of these rights as a serious breach of trust by those elected officials sworn to uphold those rights.”

The Androscoggin County resolution references a study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital showing that almost half of 200 symptomless residents of Chelsea, Massachusetts, who were tested randomly after responding to a Facebook query, were positive for the virus. It also references a recent Stanford University study in Santa Clara County, California suggesting that the virus may be 50 to 85 times more contagious than officials had believed, “and that the higher infection rate means the actual mortality rate is dramatically reduced for the virus.”

The resolution passed by a 6-1 vote. Besides Michael, of Auburn, others voting in favor were Marc Roy and Brian Ames, both of Lewiston, Isaiah Lary of Wales, Terri Kelly of Mechanic Falls and Sally Christner of Turner.

Noel Madore of Lewiston cast the negative vote, voicing his support for Gov. Janet Mills’ phased re-opening of the state.

The resolution, called “Open Maine Back Up,” called an economic emergency, and recommends the expansion of available testing, the continued protection of the elderly and the removal of the stay-at-home orders that have closed many Maine businesses.

“I thought, ‘let’s add our voice to this thing,'” Michael said. “We hope Gov. Mills, I guess we’re under her power, will move more quickly and start feeling more pressure,” to reopen the state.

The county commission decided to move forward with the resolution, but made a few changes before adoption. Added to the resolution were the reopening of churches, religious organizations and other groups.

While the lack of advance public notice and input on the resolution was mentioned, Michael pointed out that 20 to 30 people commented via Zoom, all in favor of the resolution.

“I was surprised that many people called in, commenting ‘Let us be more responsible for ourselves,'” Michael said.

The meeting, though, was not held via Zoom, as the seven commissioners gathered in their meeting room at the Androscoggin County Courthouse. The commissioners did not wear masks and were not practicing social distancing, sitting closer than 6 feet from each other.

On Thursday, after the Sun Journal posted a story of Wednesday’s meeting, Commissioner Brian Ames sent the newspaper a message explaining none of the commissioners wore a mask because it might seem that “we wouldn’t back what we are arguing for.”

Oxford County commissioners, who met Thursday via Zoom, not in person at the county building in Paris, issued their proclamation in response to an initial executive order that declared gun shops nonessential businesses.

“It is important to realize that the balance between the health, welfare and safety of citizens and their Constitutional Rights are at the forefront of our minds,” the proclamation reads.

“We encourage all elected and appointed officials to hold this trust sacred and to make every endeavor to never violate these rights,” it concludes.

Staff Writer Jon Bolduc contributed to this report.

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