Officials at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, shown Tuesday, announced the hospital will continue its policy requiring everyone to wear masks to prevent transmission of COVID-19. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON – Everyone must continue to wear masks at all times inside Lewiston’s two hospitals, officials from Central Maine Healthcare and St. Mary’s Health System said Tuesday.

Last month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their COVID-19 infection control guidelines for health care settings to no longer recommend universal masking in all circumstances.

The guidelines now say that if community transmission – a metric that considers the rate of new cases and percentage of positive nucleic acid amplification tests, or NAATs, reported within the previous seven days – is at a low, medium or substantial level, health care facilities, including nursing facilities and home health settings, could make universal masking optional.

There are individual and facility-level exceptions which say that masking is still recommended for individuals with a suspected or confirmed COVID case or who had a recent close contact or exposure, and for all individuals residing or working in a unit experiencing an outbreak.

As of Monday, all 16 Maine counties were experiencing a high level of community transmission, according to data from the federal CDC. That means universal masking is still recommended.

“Right now, the community transmission levels are high across the state, so universal masking at health care facilities offers an important tool to limit the risk of transmitting the virus that causes COVID-19 or other viruses,” Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long said in an email Tuesday evening.


But even if the tri-county area were in a lower transmission category, Central Maine Healthcare’s chief medical officer, Dr. John Alexander, is not sure that they would go mask-optional.

“We’ve talked about it a number of times here. You know, I’ve shared this with really all of our team members a number of times that our first priority throughout the last two and a half years has been to keep everyone safe,” Alexander said.

CMH is the parent company to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Bridgton Hospital, Rumford Hospital and a network of long-term care and primary care facilities in Androscoggin and Oxford counties.

There are still “a number of communities here in Androscoggin County and Oxford County, where vaccination rates, you know, quite frankly aren’t, still aren’t where we would like to see them, you know, it’s prudent still for us to have a masking policy that we wear masks at all times,” he said.

That may change in the future, Alexander said, “but by and large, I think everyone, our staff and our patients, feel comfortable knowing that we have that layer of protection.”

Officials at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, shown Tuesday, announced the hospital will continue its policy requiring everyone to wear masks to prevent transmission of COVID-19. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

St. Mary’s Health System, which includes St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and d’Youville Pavillion in Lewiston, also has no immediate plans to change its masking policy, spokesperson Steve Costello said Tuesday.


St. Mary’s incident command team meets weekly and if and when Androscoggin County’s community transmission level decreases, the team will reevaluate.

While masking remains unchanged, CMH has made two other significant changes to its COVID policies, Alexander said.

As of this past Monday, patients, visitors and staff are no longer required to answer screening questions when they enter any CMH facility. Since the start of the pandemic, all patients and visitors were asked a series of questions about their exposure to COVID, if they had tested positive or if they were experiencing any symptoms. Staff were also required to submit a daily electronic intake form.

Alexander said CMH consulted with the Maine CDC and “we determined that we no longer needed to do that.”

Patients and visitors are still informed that if they’ve had any symptoms or tested positive for COVID, they are not permitted to enter unless they have permission to do so, though there is no test-to-enter requirement, as has always been the case.

“It’s really made a big difference in terms of, you know, allowing people to enter the facility a little bit more easily and freely,” Alexander said. “And, you know, it’s made a big difference in terms of having some of our team members now, who had been assigned to those responsibilities,” available elsewhere.


CMH also changed its policy regarding staff’s ability to return to work following a positive COVID test. Alexander said this was decided in light of the updated federal guidelines and in consultation with the Maine CDC.

Under the new policy, staff can now return six days after a positive COVID test or onset of symptoms, whichever is more recent.

“But it really depends on the person,” Alexander said, because an individual should have very mild or no symptoms, and their symptoms should be improving.

“It’s really people who, you know, otherwise would be fit to work but because of the guidelines were prevented from working,” he said.

Having staff who can return to work earlier, “even a couple of days sooner . . . makes a big difference.”

CMH, like most of the nation, “is still dealing with not enough staff in their hospitals and their health care facilities,” Alexander said.


Upon their return, they must wear a respirator-type mask, such as an N95, which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“Now, they’re more rational guidelines so we can get those people back to work and still keep everyone safe,” Alexander said.

The chief medical officer added that everyone should get their flu shots and make sure they’re up to date on their COVID vaccinations and get their bivalent booster if they haven’t already.

“COVID is still around,” he said.

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