County officials working through coronavirus conditions
DOVER-FOXCROFT — As the state and nation copes with the coronavirus and works to limit its spread, officials in Piscataquis County are handling conditions the best they can.
“As of yesterday there were 17 cases of the virus confirmed in Maine, 14 in Cumberland County,” Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency Director Tom Capraro said during a March 17 Piscataquis County Commissioners meeting. He said the agency is working to continue to educate the public about precautionary measures.
“What they’re saying, naturally, is if you’re sick stay home, keep gatherings to 10 people or less and just basic precautions,” Capraro said.
He said the day before the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) approved Gov. Janet Mills’ application for SBA economic injury disaster loans to help Maine businesses overcome any temporary loss of revenue due to the coronavirus. Maine is one of the first states in the country to be approved and small business owners can now begin applying.
Capraro said establishments can apply for low interest loans “to pay any debts, payroll, accounts payable, any of your bills.”
“This is good news for Maine small businesses who will need this capital to help weather the impact of the coronavirus,” Gov. Mills said in a statement. “I thank the SBA for making these funds available and Maine’s congressional delegation for their support. I encourage Maine’s small business owners to take advantage of these loans during this time of economic uncertainty.”
Late last week, the SBA announced it would make economic injury disaster loans available to small businesses upon the request of a state’s governor. In a letter to the SBA, Gov. Mills certified that Maine’s small businesses have been impacted by the coronavirus and are eligible for agency loans. With the Governor’s letter, Maine is one of the first states to be approved for the SBA loans. According to the SBA, the loans offer up to $2 million in assistance for small businesses and may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.
Small business representatives can now access and apply for economic impact disaster loans at sba.gov/disaster. The SBA toll-free line has been established to answer questions at 1-800-659-2955.
“This is good news for Maine small businesses who will need this capital to help weather the impact of the coronavirus,” Gov. Mills said. “I thank the SBA for making these funds available and Maine’s congressional delegation for their support. I encourage Maine’s small business owners to take advantage of these loans during this time of economic uncertainty.”
Gov. Mills also directed the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development to examine additional ways that the state can support small businesses, including working with the Finance Authority of Maine and other potential lending partners.
“We’re trying to get as much information out as we can and if anyone needs help just let us know,” Capraro said about the EMA.
County Manager Michael Williams said other counties around the state are closing for various time lengths, such as for 30 days in Cumberland County, due to potential health-related liabilities.
“Yesterday we had a department head meeting and discussed preparing for not just this but any type of emergency,” Williams said. He said he had a draft of the session minutes for the commissioners to review.
“If something has to be done quickly it gives the chair the authority to act on behalf of the commissioners if something happens,” Williams said.
Commissioners Chair James White said he and Commissioners James Annis and Wayne Erkkinen could still communicate via phone and email if they cannot meet. “We will go through that and vote over email if we want to put it in place,” White said with the next regular commissioners meeting not scheduled for three more weeks.
“We have taken quite a few specific steps in the jail,” Sheriff Bob Young said. He said visits have been stopped for the time being, inmate movements have been limited and “we are asking local law enforcement not to arrest unless it is a mandatory arrest situation.” Young mentioned failure to pay a fine as an example to help limit the potential introduction of the coronavirus into the jail.
“We are doing everything, changing everything to keep the inmates safe,” Jail Administrator Maria Landry added.
“All of our court hearings from yesterday to the end of April are being continued,” Piscataquis County District Attorney’s Office Manager Corina Tibbetts Rackliff said. She said there are still reports to work on and these documents will continue to come in.
“There are some things the court is still handling, it’s just very small compared to where we were,” she said.
Rackliff said District Attorney Marianne Lynch has requested that her employees be able to work remotely when possible, and the commissioners were agreeable.
“I think with all departments we need to limit public exposure and keep government up and running, meaning we can’t stop — it’s our job,” White said.
He said the sheriff’s office cannot be limited this way but the other departments should work remotely and behind closed doors when possible. “I think everyone has an idea of what that looks like and it’s up to you how that works in your department,” the chair said.
“The goal is to keep everything moving, we have to provide services to taxpayers but you don’t need to keep everything as it’s been,” White said.