Preston Regan, 18 months, runs away from Santa and Mrs. Claus and toward his parents, Patrick and Ashley Regan, during a Nov. 28 event in Market Square in downtown Augusta. The city had set up by-appointment, socially distanced visits with children sitting on the box instead of Santa’s lap. Later in the afternoon there was a parade through several neighborhoods and a drive-in fireworks show from Augusta Civic Center. The holiday event modifications were made because of pandemic restrictions. But the city is ceasing any further in-person holiday events due to the coronavirus surge in Maine that has more than 20 city employees in quarantine after one tested positive for COVID-19. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — Coronavirus has hit city operations, with its childcare program partially closed and 20 city employees in quarantine.

The city sent home 11 children and three workers to quarantine, closing down one classroom in its childcare program, after a child who attended the program Friday tested positive for COVID-19. The program, which serves about 80 children, is remaining open to the rest of the students — but under increased vigilance due to the growing spread of COVID-19.

The child care program is down eight employees who are in quarantine, leaving nine workers there, whom Leif Dahlin, community services director, praised for being flexible and taking on additional work to keep providing care for children. Most of the children who attend have parents that work and rely on the program.

The city also has about 20 employees, total, in quarantine due to concern they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Riding in a red convertible, Santa and Mrs. Claus lead a Nov. 28 parade along Sewall Street in Augusta. Earlier in the morning the city had set up by-appointment socially distanced visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus in Market Square. The city is ceasing any further in-person holiday events due to the coronavirus surge in Maine that has more than 20 city employees in quarantine after one tested positive for COVID-19. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

Most of them were potentially exposed during holiday festivities in the city Nov. 28, which included prescheduled visits with Mr. and Mrs. Claus for children, drive-in fireworks, and a parade by Santa Claus and others through several of the city’s neighborhoods. It was part of the city’s effort to have some socially distanced holiday events for area families.

Dahlin said a city parks and recreation employee tested positive for COVID-19 after apparently getting it at home from a family member. A total of about 20 city employees — including all but two parks and recreation employees — who had contact with that employee are now in quarantine, as a precaution.

“Responding to and dealing with this pandemic in Augusta, Maine continues to be a work in progress and something of a moving target, we’re all contending with that and trying to use our best judgement,” City Manager William Bridgeo said when asked if, in hindsight, the holiday event should not have taken place. “I wouldn’t be critical of the planning and process that went into the event, it was certainly designed to be safe, and it was very well received.

“I wouldn’t want to put on any future event I thought would result in one person getting sick. Folks were wearing masks, most the event people were in their cars, but it points out that even safe, well-planned events have some risk to them,” he added. “And as we go forward we have to continue to be ever more vigilant about that.”

Dahlin said the employee who tested positive did not have contact with the public at the holiday events. He said while not all those staff members have been tested for COVID-19 yet, most have and all of those have tested negative for COVID-19, but will need to undergo additional tests and have them come back negative, before returning to work.

In response to those issues and the increasing prevalence of COVID-19 in the state, Augusta has canceled any remaining in-person holiday events and nearly all in-person events altogether.

City officials had planned to have additional visits with Santa, another “Santa Stroll” parade through city neighborhoods after the first one was so well-received and drive-in movies, but all those events have been canceled.

Now the only planned holiday activities left are phone calls and letters to Santa.

“In the interest of caution and the well-being of the public we’re not going to do anything that brings people together, period,” said Dahlin, who has overseen hundreds of such events over his many years with the city. “It breaks our heart. The Santa Stroll throughout the neighborhoods was so well-received, kids’ faces were beaming, and the drive-in fireworks were very popular as well.

“But now it’s not the right thing to do, because of the potential exposure,” he added. “Given the state of affairs, and that (COVID-19) is exploding, we have a responsibility” to cancel in-person events.

The town of Winslow closed its municipal offices indefinitely, starting this week. While Augusta has made some changes, they have not taken that step.

City councilors shifted back to online-only meetings in November and Bridgeo said he’s even stopped having routine Monday lunches with Mayor David Rollins at which time they typically discuss the upcoming council meeting and other city business.

One of the few city public activities that may still have some in-person component, Bridgeo said, is swearing-in ceremonies for city councilors to take their oaths of office in January. That may involve councilors taking their oaths in person in a small gathering in council chambers.

Bridgeo and Dahlin noted the city’s childcare program was intentionally set up with classroom groups that allow separate cohorts of children, to limit the potential for COVID-19 to spread at the Buker Community Center, which is home to the program.

He said the city is not currently considering closing the child care program.

On Monday, Bridgeo sent out a memo to all city employees thanking them for their dedication to serving residents through the pandemic. He also warned them the city will have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to employees not wearing masks and social distancing.

“Though we are all experiencing COVID fatigue, the good news is that vaccines are on the way and if we can all remain vigilant for a few more months we’ll beat this thing,” Bridgeo wrote in the memo. “In the meantime, though, we must all do everything in our power to avoid catching and/or passing along the virus.

“At its most basic level that means following public health advisories that include frequently washing our hands, maintaining proper social distancing and,” he added, “most importantly, conscientiously wearing masks when in public or in the presence of co-workers.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.