With the level of concern on the rise regarding the spread of the coronavirus, officials from China and Oakland are gearing up to keep residents informed.

Oakland Town Manager Gary Bowman said the town has formed a committee, which came together after he and fire Chief Dave Coughlin met three weeks ago, when the number of cases in the U.S. were still fairly low.

Oakland Town Manager Gary Bowman, pictured here at his desk at the town office on Nov. 15, 2017, has formed a committee in Oakland to deal with the fallout from the coronavirus. Morning Sentinel file photo

“We met up when it was just starting to grow,” Bowman said, “and I said, ‘maybe we should keep an eye on what’s happening and get together with the police chief to come up with a plan just to be safe,’ because we at the town office, the fire department and police department have direct contact with the public on a daily basis so we need to keep everyone safe. We’d rather be safe than sorry with this.” 

The committee is comprised of Bowman; Coughlin, who is also the town’s health and safety officer; police Chief Michael Tracy; and Deputy Manager Janice Porter. 

“We’re going to be meeting every two weeks so we can keep on top of what’s going on,” Bowman said. “I’m going to update the public every two weeks with a press release that will be posted on our websites and social media.”

A post made to the town’s Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon provided an overview of the committee’s goals and some facts about the virus and who is at risk.

“Facts as we know them,” the post said. “There are currently no known cases of COVID-19 in the State of Maine, it’s unknown if this will change; you can carry the virus for up to two weeks without showing symptoms and be contagious; the virus can live on surfaces (counter tops, writing instruments, door handles, faucets and toilets etc.) for up to 24 hrs; young and healthy populations are affected the same way the flu or cold would affect them. Elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions can experience a serious effect from this virus.”

The post also outlined what operational changes will be made to the town office in order to ensure the safety of the staff and the public. This includes no longer shaking hands, no longer sharing writing instruments and maintaining a social distance of 6 feet from person to person, per CDC guidelines.

Bowman said having the information available on a local level is important.

“We have a lot of seniors, people are nervous and we want to make sure people have the right information and are safe,” Bowman said. “Coming from local municipality has a certain level of importance … we’d rather be safe than sorry … We’re here for everybody.” 

China is joining in the efforts to keep residents informed. Town Manager Dennis Heath released a statement on Wednesday afternoon that outlined what the coronavirus is, the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus, what towns and schools should do to prevent the spread of the virus and what to do if an outbreak were to happen in the community.

“The best we can do at the time is remind everyone to stay home if sick, cover up any coughs or sneezes, wash hands regularly and contact your doctor with any concerns or questions,” the statement said. “If you or your family members are sick, please stay at home and or check in with medical providers for care. Those at greatest risk are the elderly and others with pre-existing medical conditions that have weakened their immune systems.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, Maine has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus with 42 people testing negatively.

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