Sandy Buchanan, general manager and director of operations of Western Maine Transportation Services, puts down a floor sticker to encourage passengers to help in the fight against COVID-19 at the “This is ME Counting on You” event in Auburn at the Downtown Auburn Transportation Center on Thursday. “We are counting on our passengers to keep their masks on and to limit their conversations with other passengers and drivers to ensure our drivers can stay safe and provide services,” she said. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — Employees deemed “essential” during the pandemic often rely on public transportation, and it needs to remain safe to support a vital link in the state’s economy, a group of state and local officials said Thursday.

During a public awareness event at the Downtown Auburn Transportation Center, officials placed floor stickers on buses used to transport workers to a wide swath of the state, and urged the public not to be complacent in the battle against COVID-19.

The event Thursday was part of the Maine State Chamber’s “This is ME Counting on You” campaign, rolled out in May as a way to urge people to follow heath guidelines so that businesses can successfully reopen.

Sandy Buchanan, general manager and director of operations for Western Maine Transportation Services, which also serves the Lewiston-Auburn-based Citylink transit system, said there have been more safety measures for public transit in order to keep ridership safe, and to avoid a resurgence of cases in Maine.

She said Western Maine Transportation, which connects riders from Sugarloaf and Sunday River ski areas to Brunswick and many points in between, needs to use every safety measure available to keep passengers safe, or else service could be forced to shut down. That would mean another piece of today’s brittle economy coming to a halt.

Thursday’s event, she said, served as a reminder for residents — especially those who depend on public transit — to keep vigilant.

“We’re at a point where we’re hopefully about to enter Phase 4 of the reopening plan,” she said Thursday. “We’re moving forward, let’s not do something that’s going to make us go backward.”

Dana Connors, president and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, displays a thank you note for customers at the “This is ME Counting on You” event in Auburn at the Downtown Auburn Transportation Center on Thursday. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Buchanan said high-touch areas are disinfected between runs, and each bus receives thorough disinfecting at night. They’re also urging passengers to limit interactions with the driver and other passengers.

Also speaking at the event were state and local chamber of commerce officials, who argued that following health guidelines will help support the economy.

“We are pleased to be here with Western Maine Transportation Services and Citylink to help spread the word that they, like other businesses and organizations across Maine, take very seriously their role in keeping their patrons, employees, and communities safe, now more than ever,” Dana Connors, president and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said.

Connors said the state’s economy, while still struggling, has been rebounding in some ways, but that resurgences of virus cases across the country serve as a warning that it’s “our duty to do our part.”

“The last thing we should be doing is being complacent,” he said. “Having all of us come together in this same purpose and message, I can’t say enough good things.”

Shanna Cox, president of the Lewiston-Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said regional and local public transit is a vital piece of the economy, from seniors getting to appointments and groceries to “essential workers working low-wage jobs” getting to work.

She said the biggest issue she’s hearing from chamber members is workforce concerns — either staff shortages or employees exposed to COVID-19.

“One of the chief concerns among businesses in our region is their workforce — finding and retaining employees while keeping them healthy so operations can continue uninterrupted,” she said. “The resources of this campaign and the message throughout our public transportation system highlights the direct and important link between healthy transportation options and a healthy workforce.”

Buchanan added that a lot people who depend on Citylink and other public transit are those working in grocery stores and other essential jobs.

“We want to make sure that they’re there,” she said.

The “This is ME Counting on You” campaign also has resources for businesses on its website, including printable posters, and multiple versions of a “Thank You” card for businesses to give customers and visitors, “thanking them for being safe and responsible.”

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