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Delta Variant May Push City Committees Back to Zoom

At its meeting on August 3, the Sanford City Council reviewed and discussed amendments to its Rules and Order of Business. The first amendment, pursuant to the Maine state adoption of US CDC recommendations, requires members of the public, as well as elected officials, who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 to wear masks at public meetings if the US CDC rate of community transmission is “Low” or “Moderate” for York County. If community transmission is declared to be “Substantial” or “High” for York County, everyone must be masked at meetings.

However, the second proposed amendment defines a “Substantial” or “High” rate of transmission for York County as an emergency which would allow the Council to revert to meeting remotely (via Zoom). If the transmission level is anything but “Low,” work sessions of the Council Subcommittees would be held remotely.

Mr. Buck said the legal opinion on these matters has changed rapidly, and that Sanford’s legal counsel’s opinion is that the state legislature intentionally left the definition of “emergency” open to local determination.

Councilor Jonathan Martell questioned why this change was being recommended, after the Council was just recently told they could no longer meet remotely. Mr. Buck responded that the change was in response to the much more contagious new Delta variant, which can be picked up and transmitted by fully vaccinated persons. He added that new US CDC recommendations, accepted by the Maine CDC, spurred the proposed changes. He also clarified that the US CDC’s guidance on masking is a recommendation, not a requirement.

Councilor Luke Lanigan asked how the rate of transmission is determined. Mr. Buck replied that it is determined through testing. Councilor Lanigan said he believes fewer people are getting tested now, which may be skewing the results. He said he didn’t want to send the wrong message to the community which might affect local businesses. Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy pointed out that, although Sanford’s vaccination rate is very good at 79%, rural communities close to us have much lower rates, including Lebanon at just 51% vaccination rate, which may be leading to higher transmission rates in York County as a whole. “Remember, Sanford is a service center,” she said.

The Council voted to approve both changes on a vote of 4-1, with Councilor Martell voting in opposition. Councilors John Tuttle and Ayn Hanselmann were absent with notice.

The following evening, the Planning Board, meeting via Zoom, voted unanimously to adopt the policy. Members Dianne Connolly and Oliver Jones were absent with notice.

Rates of Covid-19 transmission are updated daily on this site: (Select Maine and York County from the drop-down menus.)

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