Central Maine law enforcement agencies are urging officers to limit face-to-face contact and practice social distancing with people as local concerns about the coronavirus continue to grow.

Officers may not be able to avoid all contact with people or with potentially hazardous materials or situations, but many area agencies are urging officers to work remotely and stay home if they are sick.

Augusta Police Chief Jared Mills said his department is following many instructions and directives from the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, including limiting contact and taking extra precautions when responding to calls.

“Emergency calls where we have to make contact with people face to face are the challenging calls,” Mills said. “Some calls we cannot limit but will take other precautions before and after the contact to limit our exposure.”

On Sunday, Gov. Janet Mills declared a state of emergency as state officials announced more confirmed and presumptive cases of coronavirus.

Along with the declaration, Mills issued new recommendations aimed at slowing transmission of the virus, including advising schools not to hold classes at school buildings and not to hold gatherings of more than 50 people.

“Social distancing” has become an everyday phrase during the COVID-19 outbreak. The CDC’s website defines it as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”

Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason said only staff members , vendors and lawyers with clients who are appearing in court via video are now allowed into the Kennebec County Correctional Facility in Augusta.

Mason said employees, vendors and lawyers will be screened before entering the facility. He also said lawyers will use visitation rooms to meet with clients, and those rooms will be sanitized multiple times a day.

Mason said noncontact visits may still be scheduled, but that is a “day-to-day matter and is subject to change.”

All outside work crews will no longer leave the county jail grounds and will instead clean all public areas within county government and inside the jail, he said.

Mason said the department’s administrative offices are open to the public and taking steps to minimize contact between employees and the public. He said that is subject to change and the department will use social media to inform the public of any changes.

Law enforcement will be “pretty much business as usual, with some subtle differences,” Mason said. He said deputies will handle as many calls by telephone as they can. When necessary to respond in person, he said, deputies will keep a social distance.

“Nothing personal,” Mason said. “we are just doing our part to get through this event as best we can.”

Maine State Police Lt. Pat Hood said commanding officers have been briefed in how to reduce the spread of the virus. He said troopers have been directed to observe the social distance recommendations, including not holding meetings or training sessions.

Troopers have also been directed to make telephone calls when appropriate instead of meeting in person to resolve complaints, and to work remotely, if needed.

“These are challenging times for sure,” Hood said, “but we will adapt as needed to ensure our services are as close to normal in a time that is not.”

Hood said he was not concerned about staffing should some troopers become ill or infected.

Other agencies are following similar practices. Hallowell Police Chief Eric Nason said his department is encouraging officers to wash their hands frequently and report any cough, fever or shortness of breath to their supervisors.

Nason also said officers are encouraged to use proper disposal techniques after using personal protective equipment, such as gloves. He said officers should also use gloves or other equipment during traffic stops or take photographs of evidence instead of taking it into their possession.

In a Facebook post, the Monmouth Police Department assured residents that officers will respond to all emergency calls, but will be taking extra precautions, such as social distancing.

“In cases where an officer needs to respond in person, they may request to speak with a complainant outdoors, and will practice the recommended social distancing by not shaking hands, and by maintaining their distance, staying five or six feet away,” the post reads.

“Please understand that this is not meant to be disrespectful or unfriendly. It’s only a precaution to help ensure your health and ours.”

Winthrop Police Chief Ryan Frost said until further notice, his officers will not be conducting normal employment or licensing fingerprinting at the police station.

“We encourage individuals to call the Police Department rather than walking into our station, unless there is an emergency need,” he said. “We are encouraging the community to use our forms online to help reduce foot traffic at our station.”

Gardiner Police Chief Jim Toman said his department is also following CDC guidelines for law enforcement.

 


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