AUGUSTA — At least two Republican lawmakers are wearing plastic face shields in the State House that public health officials say do not provide adequate protection against transmission of COVID-19.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, responding to a query from the Press Herald, said it would not recommend the “chin shield” type mask, worn frequently in the State House by Reps. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, and Shelly Rudnicki, R-Fairfield, as a product that controls virus transmission for COVID-19.

Both Rudnicki and Libby have posted multiple videos on Facebook showing them wearing the shields in the State House building in public spaces and meeting rooms.

The shields, which rest on the chin and partially cover the lower face, are marketed online as anti-fog shields aimed at workers in catering, restaurants and hotel food services.

Libby was wearing the shield on Thursday as she sat in the House chamber while participating remotely in a meeting of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. At times, State House staff also were in the chamber, which typically seats all 151 House members.

Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, in a joint statement issued Wednesday, implored lawmakers “to show the same fortitude that school-age children have shown throughout this pandemic by following basic health and safety protocols designed to keep themselves and the people around them safe.”

A legislative subcommittee on personnel met for over an hour Thursday afternoon to discuss the issue and voted to recommend a policy change to the Legislative Council that would require facial coverings or shields to comply with recommendations from the Maine CDC. The council, a bipartisan leadership group that makes policy to govern the operation of the Legislature, will take up the issue next week.

Jackson, a council member who also serves on the personnel subcommittee, said at least one member of the Legislature’s non-partisan staff had resigned because lawmakers were not complying with masking requirements.

In phone interview Thursday night, Libby said the face shield she has been using had not been questioned before and that she had already ordered a compliant face covering.

Rudnicki did not return a message seeking an interview about her choice of face covering.

Rep. Shelley Rudnicki, R-Fairfield, wears a face shield at the Maine State House in early January. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

John Bott, spokesman for House Republicans, said leaders of the party were not aware of concerns over the use of the chin-shield type masks until Thursday, when he was questioned about it by the Press Herald.

“The issue will be addressed in upcoming meetings, now that face shields are no longer allowed by the presiding officers,” Bott said in an email. He said Libby had been made aware of the concern and had offered to purchase a compliant face shield immediately.

The Maine CDC issued a written statement after the newspaper provided a photo of the shields. The statement, issued by agency spokesman Robert Long, lists four reasons why an open-topped plastic shield is ineffective:

• Does not wrap around the sides of the face, or extend below the chin

• Moves with the chin and may no longer cover the nose as a person is talking

• Has a small surface area and is open on all sides, significantly limiting the functionality to stop or redirect respiratory droplets

• Offers very minimal protection to the wearer as someone else’s respiratory droplets could easily move past the chin shield and reach the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose.

“Conclusion:  Would NOT recommend this type of product for COVID-19 source control,” Long wrote.

A sign posted between the Senate and House of Representatives chambers Thursday tells people that masks are mandatory. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Face coverings can reduce the spread of the virus from the mask wearer to others by preventing distribution of respiratory droplets that carry the virus. This is especially important with COVID-19 because many people are asymptomatic, which means they have the disease but are not exhibiting symptoms. These people can still transmit the virus to others before they become sick themselves.

Masking, when combined with keeping a physical distance of a least 6 feet between people and adequate hand-washing, has proven effective in slowing the spread of the virus.

On Thursday, state officials reported another 675 new cases of COVID-19 and six additional deaths. Since the pandemic began, Maine has logged 35,638 cases of COVID-19, and 536 deaths.

Rudnicki and Libby were among a group of Republican lawmakers who sat unmasked in a State House office space earlier this month, violating a policy approved by the presiding officers and leaders of both parties.

Rudnicki posted video of the meeting to her Facebook page, where she has dismissed and disparaged masking requirements, calling them “idiotic.”

Republican leaders said the lawmakers misunderstood legislative policy, which requires lawmakers and others to wear facial coverings whenever they gather in a “legislative space.”

The Legislature’s COVID-19 policy also requires masks that cover both the face and nose, unless the individual has a medical condition preventing the use of a facial covering. In such a case, the policy states that the lawmaker may participate in meetings remotely.

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