AUGUSTA — City councilors Thursday night rescinded City Manager William Bridgeo’s order, issued last week, closing all nonessential businesses and encouraging residents to stay home and maintain safe distances from each other, because the order issued Tuesday by Gov. Janet Mills does essentially the same thing statewide.

City Manager William Bridgeo listens during an Augusta City Council goal-setting event Jan. 11 at the Augusta Civic Center. Bridgeo encouraged the council to rescind his order closing nonessential businesses and asking people to stay-at-home after Gov. Janet Mills issued a similar edict on a statewide scale. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Bridgeo said he recommended councilors rescind his order after seeing Mills’s order that took effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. The state order prohibits anyone in Maine from traveling outside their homes for all but “essential personal activities.” It came on the heels of a March 24 Mills’ order that directed all nonessential businesses to close to the public.

Bridgeo’s order, which took effect March 27, directed all nonessential businesses to close and encouraged — but did not require — residents to stay home except to address their essential needs, which included shopping for groceries, working at essential businesses and exercising.

“The state order almost exactly does what I was doing,” Bridgeo said. “I remember sitting at home (when he heard of the state order) and breathing a sigh of relief, because (Mills) had done the same thing.”

Mayor David Rollins praised Mills for the state order, telling city councilors at their Thursday night online meeting the statewide rule would eliminate confusion.

“Prior to her doing that I think there was a lot more confusion,” he said. “There was a lot of inconsistency around the state. So I want to thank the governor. And thank you Bill (Bridgeo). Because those aren’t easy things to order and not things you do lightly.”

Councilors voted unanimously to rescind the city order.

Fire Chief Roger Audette, who is also the city’s emergency management director, noted the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise. He said there are at least 19 cases in Kennebec County, but said there are other confirmed cases in the county not included in that number because some of the patients here have addresses from other states.

Audette said he spoke with a Maine Emergency Management Agency official Thursday who asked whether the Augusta Civic Center could be made available by the city for possible use as an alternative care facility for overflow patients if hospitals become overwhelmed with patients.

“That doesn’t mean it’ll happen there,” Audette said, “but they know the city of Augusta is here and we’ll do whatever we need to do to partner up with state, federal and local hospital officials to do whatever needs to happen to make (the Augusta Civic Center a mass care) site if they want it.”

He said the state is prepared to establish alternative care facilities statewide if there are not enough beds available in hospitals to accommodate an expected surge in the number of coronavirus patients, in addition to other patients. Audette said if they are needed, they will likely first be in the southern part of the state where there are more cases.

Police Chief Jared Mills said the city’s officers are out in full force despite the pandemic. He said they’ve been spending a lot of time in areas where stores are still open, where there have been a lot of theft and other calls. He also said they are trying to help get the word out to people about the state stay-at-home restrictions. The restrictions still allow people to leave their homes to exercise, shop, go to work if they are considered an essential worker, and to care for themselves or others.

“This is something we’re taking slow; the word is ‘educate,'” Mills said. “We’re going to give everybody a chance to come up to speed on this, we’re not looking to charge, arrest or summons anybody. So far the citizens of Augusta have been absolutely fabulous about this.”

At Large Councilor Marci Alexander also said local citizens have done a good job staying at home, and encouraged anyone who may need help to reach out for assistance.

“I know Mainers are tough and many of our elderly would not ask for help, they just kind of tough things out on their own,” she said. “If you need help, please reach out for it and you will receive it. Now, when things are relatively calm, would be a good time to make sure things are squared away. Thank you for staying tough, for staying home, and enduring.”

Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind said people in need of help can call 211.

Bridgeo said city officials are working to improve the virtual council meetings and hope to soon add a way for public input during the meetings.

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