LEWISTON — Officials gathered at City Hall on Monday to urge residents to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors in public places to alleviate the strain on hospitals, schools and the local economy from the latest COVID-19 surge.

Mayor Carl Sheline, joined by officials from Lewiston’s two hospitals and the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said the city needs “to do better” to raise its vaccination rate of 67%, which is below the state mark of 70.5%.

He said the current surge has put more pressure on staffing issues in each sector, including the school district.

“It’s important to keep our community healthy so that students, educators and support staff can safely remain in schools,” he said.

Mayor Carl Sheline, along with officials from Lewiston’s hospitals and the LA Metro Chamber of Commerce, attend a news conference Monday at City Hall to urge people to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors in public settings to slow the spread of COVID-19. City of Lewiston photo

In a mayoral proclamation, Sheline said, “Being fully vaccinated and getting the booster when eligible provides the best protection against infection and avoiding hospitalization in the case of a breakthrough infection; and following the CDC recommendation to wear masks while in public spaces indoors further reduces the likelihood of transmission.”

He told hospital officials that the work of their staffs over the past two years “has not been taken for granted.”


The news conference was held the same day COVID-19 hospitalizations in Maine exceeded 400 for the first time. Last week, officials in both Lewiston and Auburn told the Sun Journal they had no plans to institute further COVID-19 precautions after Portland issued an indoor mask mandate.

John Alexander, chief medical officer for Central Maine Healthcare, urged residents to take advantage of the hospital’s vaccination clinic at the Auburn Mall, where the vaccine is offered for free.

Douglas Smith, chief medical officer at St. Mary’s Health System, said that not long ago it “felt like we were turning a corner,” but unfortunately “we’re back in a situation where it’s put a strain on our community and our hospital system.”

He said the surge has limited the hospital’s capacity to do non-COVID-19 related health care.

“Vaccination remains the No. 1 way for us to prevent illness and hospitalizations,” he said. “Even though we’re tired of masks and everything else, I think it’s time to double down and make sure we’re protecting ourselves and others.”

Keeping the economy afloat was also a major concern Monday, with Shanna Cox, president of the LA Metro Chamber, stating that business owners across the region have talked to her recently about “the struggle of maintaining a workforce and keeping doors open.”


“Businesses across the region continue to see disruptions to their workforce and operations from the spread of COVID,” she said. “They are counting on the actions of employees, customers, and residents of the region to do their part to help keep their doors open and their teams healthy.”

Sheline said he’s been hearing similar stories from business owners who have been dealing with staff quarantines “and the resulting disruptions for too long now.”

Abdikhadar Shire, executive director of AK Health, a nonprofit that provides services to a diverse community of clients, has been working to educate the public about the safety of vaccines. He said Monday that the organization has been holding vaccine clinics and providing free COVID-19 tests to clients.

He said Monday’s news conference was a reminder “that we’re not alone in this fight.”

“We can come together and protect each other from the common enemy, in this case COVID-19,” he said.

City Councilor Stephanie Gelinas, who also serves on the Lewiston Area Public Health Committee, said she’s “been challenged” recently about why she still wears a mask indoors. She said she tells them that people can spread COVID-19 before they have symptoms, and that she doesn’t know if someone near her could be battling a health issue or caring for an elderly parent.

“I want my community to thrive again, and I want businesses to stay open,” she said. “We need to look at this not as divisive, but as a public health issue.”

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