The response from some of the largest employers in central Maine was largely muted Friday a day after President Joe Biden announced a sweeping new rule affecting tens of millions of workers that’s meant to contain a surge in the delta variant of the coronavirus.

Biden imposed a federal rule that will require employers with 100 or more workers to have their employees vaccinated or take weekly tests to determine if they have the virus.

The mandate impacts about 100 million Americans working in the private sector, in the health care industry and as federal contractors. The number includes about 170,000 Mainers, or roughly one-third of the state’s workforce, according to state officials.

While some businesses in central Maine have already responded to the mandate and said they’re working to update company policies, others have yet to announce their plans or declined to discuss those plans on Friday.

Augusta-based MaineGeneral Health is the largest employer in the region with about 4,500 employees and is already subject to state-mandated vaccinations for health care workers.

Steve Diaz, the chief medical officer of MaineGeneral Health, said in a statement that the federal mandate “is an important step in helping us turn the tide on COVID-19 incidence rates.”

“As reported over the last few weeks, Maine’s health care system has been strained by the increased incidences of COVID-19,” Diaz said. “We have seen the positive impacts of vaccination, along with masking, social distancing, hand washing and staying home when you are sick. We all must work together during this global pandemic.”

The federal rule comes as Maine officials on Friday reported 506 new cases of COVID-19 and eight additional deaths as state officials work through a backlog of tests.

There were 192 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Maine, with 72 of them in intensive care units. Between 70% and 75% of those hospitalized and nearly 100% of those in the ICU are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Statewide, nearly 64% of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. While 58% of Kennebec County is fully vaccinated, Somerset  remains the lowest vaccinated county in the state at 51%.

Kimberly N. Lindlof, president and CEO of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce in Waterville, said Friday that she had heard nothing from chamber members or anyone else about the federal mandate.

Asked about her reaction to the mandate, Lindlof said she doesn’t have an opinion.

“We have not discussed it as a chamber as to whether we think there should be a vaccination mandate or not,” Lindlof said. “We really are leaving this up to the professionals. The health care people, the CDC. We are not weighing in on it.”

Jason Gayne, president and CEO of the Skowhegan Regional Chamber of Commerce, also said he had not heard any comments on the matter. He said the chamber does not have many members with 100 or more employees.

“I haven’t talked to any of them yet,” Gayne said. “It’s a frustration, but I’m going to talk to them and see how we’re going to get through this. It seems like one hurdle after another.”

At J.S. McCarthy Printers, which employs more than 100 people at its Augusta facility, Vice President of Marketing Michael Tardiff said the company had no comment.

A spokesperson for Huhtamaki, which runs a large manufacturing facility straddling the Waterville-Fairfield line, didn’t immediately have details Friday but was checking with the company leadership team on “our plan in regards to possible vaccine mandates.”

Calls to several large employers throughout the region were not returned on Friday.

In an email to employees Friday, Lisa DeSisto, CEO of MaineToday Media, the entity that owns the Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Portland Press Herald, said the company is “getting up to speed on the new federal mandate” and would “be in touch shortly with our details on how we plan to administer these new rules.” Details on how the company plans to follow the mandate for its hundreds of workers haven’t been worked out yet but DeSisto said that proof of vaccination will be required once a process is figured out.

Though some central Maine businesses are grappling with this new mandate, local colleges are not feeling as much pressure because of policies that were in place prior to returning to school.

At Colby College in Waterville, students were asked to be fully vaccinated before arriving on campus in August. Faculty and staff working on-campus were also required to be fully vaccinated by mid-August unless they were approved for an exemption for medical or religious reasons.

“The latest scientific evidence about highly contagious and dangerous variants, in particular, demonstrates why everyone who needs to interact on campus with one another must be vaccinated,” Colby College said in a statement. “It is also critical that everyone on campus feels safe in this environment, and our educational and co-curricular programs rely on all students, faculty and staff being vaccinated, unless they are exempt.”

Similarly, Thomas College in Waterville, which has 704 students currently enrolled as well as 142 full-time faculty and staff members, has also required all in-person students, faculty and staff be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Morning Sentinel reporters Amy Calder and Haley Hersey, and Managing Editor Scott Monroe contributed to this report.

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.