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Commissioners update public on coronavirus response

Apr 27, 2020

Belfast —
The Waldo County Commissioners' Office issued the following update April 23 on the county's response to COVID-19 and the winter storms that hit in mid-April, including tips on available resources and a call for donations to food pantries.

Waldo County commissioners met March 16 to establish policy regarding safety for county employees, while maintaining essential services to the public. The Sheriff’s Office continues to patrol the county and enforce the laws that haven’t been suspended by the governor. Deputies are still serving the public and are there when needed. The county Corrections program continues to protect the public even while changing the procedures for entering the facility. The public safety answering point, or 911, continues to fully operate and the dispatchers are still taking all emergency calls. The County Emergency Management Agency is fully staffed and coordinating information, providing directions and requesting resources.

Probate Court and the Registry of Probate are currently closed to the general public and operating with limited staff on an essential-only basis. The Deeds Office is operating their regular business hours, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Deeds Office does have a drop box for drop-off and pickup of recordings/copies.

Statutorily, the Probate Court must be available 24/7 for emergency matters. Postal mail, email and e-filings are being monitored and responded to, as appropriate. Voice mails left on the telephone system are being forwarded to the Register of Probate via email, as well. Any matters that must be heard by Judge Ociepka prior to reopening county buildings are being conducted telephonically or by videoconferencing.

At the time this report was written, there were 45 confirmed cases of people with COVID-19 infections in Waldo County, 40 of those in one nursing home. As such, there have only been five confirmed cases outside the nursing home in the entire county in the last six weeks. Maine CDC has reported that the numbers of those who have been tested as confirmed with COVID-19 infection is most likely a tiny fraction of the number of people who actually are infected with COVID-19. Additionally, those who have been infected, but have not been tested, are not experiencing severe symptoms. The silver lining in this information is that the death rate and severity appears to be far less than originally thought, since the numbers of deaths from those with COVID-19 is a pretty accurate number while the number of infections is probably much higher.

The Commissioners' Office urges those who are concerned for their safety because of the virus to stay at home at all times, if possible. This is the best way to prevent exposure. You will not become infected if you practice severe social distancing. This is primarily for those who are elderly and/or have underlining medical conditions. There are many others who need to go out for essential purposes and fortunately, the confirmed cases of infections among those who are out is very low. There have been no deaths in the county outside the nursing home in Belfast.

The Commissioners Office encourages all to visit several websites to learn more about what to do to be better prepared and to know what is happening in the county. These sites include:

• Disaster preparedness: waldocountyme.gov/emergency-preparedness-information/

• Status of local infrastructure: waldocountyme.gov/documents/whats-going-on/

• COVID-19 information: waldocountyme.gov/documents/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/

• Businesses: belfastmaine.org/resources/covid-19-updates/

• Economic Development: maine.gov/decd/home

• Farmers: https://extension.umaine.edu/agriculture/covid-19-faq/

• Agriculture: maine.gov/dacf/covid19/

• Federal government: coronavirus.gov/

Waldo County Emergency Management Agency has been working with local food pantries and representatives from Good Shepherd to coordinate the response to the economic emergency resulting from closed local businesses and those out of work. The demand on local food pantries has increased while some normal supplies of food have been reduced. Therefore, the county commissioners authorized the expenditure of $5,000 to purchase bulk, shelf-stable food to be distributed to the public. The county EMA Office, working with local Boy Scout troops, delivered the food to a dozen local food pantries that distributed the food to Waldo County residents. Our local municipalities have also held local food drives, coordinated volunteers to deliver food from grocery stores to residents who are shut in, and have purchased food for their residents.

There is still a large need for food stock at the local food pantries. The county commissioners urge residents to reach out to their local food pantries and donate funds or food as they are able.

Volunteers have reached out and donated many of hours of support to their communities. We have seen an outpouring of support from church groups, civic organizations, militia personnel, youth scouts and the general public. Our first responders are very much involved in the response.

During this COVID-19 civil emergency, we also experienced a major snowstorm that caused a five-day power outage and a rainstorm that caused flooding and road damage. Volunteer firefighters were extremely busy with trying to clear debris from the roads, while the volunteer emergency managers coordinated with the power utility companies to make the roadways safe from downed electrical lines, broken poles and tree debris. After two days, most of the roads were reopened to at least one lane and most residents had their power back within four days. Considering there were 160 road issues and 85% of the county was without power, this was a rapid response by all parties involved. There were more poles broken during this event than during the Ice Storm of '98.

Then a few day later, we experienced heavy rains which caused road damage in several towns. These towns are assessing their damage and sending their reports to the county EMA.

Gov. Mills’ civil emergency declaration and President Trump’s national emergency declaration made Maine eligible for emergency public assistance reimbursement for Emergency Protective Actions being implemented by local government and some nonprofits. This reimbursement is for specific actions being implemented to deal with the COVID-19 national emergency. Town officials with questions should contact the county EMA.

Finally, a huge amount of time and effort at Waldo County EMA has been spent on efforts to request, acquire and coordinate personal protective equipment  for long-term care facilities, medical facilities, ambulance services, law enforcement, corrections and fire departments. This was one area in which our world’s “just in time” supply system has shown its weakness.

Efficiency is driven by providing just what is needed for day-to-day consumption. The supply system is not maintained for global emergencies. Hard decisions have had to be made by state, county, municipal and medical officials and new protocols have been continuously developed to deal with the severe shortages of PPE. The county EMA continues to submit requests for PPE, with long-term care facilities being highest priority because of the nursing home COVID-19 outbreaks.

Waldo County commissioners invite all to visit the Waldo County website at waldocountyme.gov for further information. You may visit the County Emergency Management Agency website at waldocountyme.gov/ema for local emergency information regarding the response to COVID-19 and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

Please remember not to call 911 for non-emergency information. You may call 211 if you are looking for any type of social service assistance; 911 is reserved for true emergencies requiring law enforcement, emergency medical and fire protection services.

For more information, contact the Waldo County Emergency Management Agency at 338-3370 or ema@waldocountyme.gov.

 

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