Piscataquis commissioners pass anti-Mills resolution based on COVID-19 misinformation
By David Marino Jr., Bangor Daily News Staff
A resolution adopted by Piscataquis County’s three commissioners that objects to Gov. Janet Mills’ COVID-19 measures makes numerous false statements and repeatedly refers to the coronavirus as the “Wuhan Virus.”
The resolution, for example, falsely says face coverings cause pneumonia and respiratory disease. It demands Mills’ “mandates and the lock-down” be lifted, and says the measures have failed to stop the spread of COVID-19 while harming the state’s economy.
The largely symbolic measure represents the latest formal, county-level objection to the state’s measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it comes at a time when the state is seeing record levels of new cases.
The commissioners unanimously adopted the resolution on Wednesday and posted it to their Facebook page on Thursday, prompting backlash on social media. The commissioners plan to sign it at a meeting that begins at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, said Chair James White.
While Maine’s county commissioners have power over county budgets that fund sheriff’s offices and jails, their primary area of control is their counties’ unorganized territory.
White defended the resolution, denying that it contained misinformation or racist language. He accused Mills of not allowing Piscataquis County commissioners input into COVID-19 policy and said the commissioners should have released the statement “months ago.”
White called it a tragedy that restaurants and small businesses “have been forced to close” during the pandemic.
“It’s detrimental to our whole way of life here in Maine,” he said.
In an interview Friday, White called the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s count of COVID-19 deaths “suspect,” as he said it is not clear that those who died did so because of COVID-19 or because of other ailments they suffered while having the virus.
The state’s count of coronavirus deaths includes those who died after testing positive for COVID-19 and didn’t recover. The illnesses from which they directly died have to be consistent with COVID-19 symptoms to be counted as a coronavirus death. The state follows internationally established criteria in counting COVID-19 deaths.
Accusations that state and federal officials are inflating COVID-19 death totals have been common throughout the pandemic, including from President Donald Trump. Health officials point out that while other ailments — including heart disease and respiratory illness — can contribute to death from COVID-19, there is clear evidence the virus can be fatal. Some research has suggested that the official tally of COVID-19 deaths is actually an undercount.
Medical officials view the phrase “Wuhan Virus” as xenophobic and distracting, but White said the phrase merely reflected where the virus originated. He compared it to how other viruses had been referred to throughout history, including the phrase “Spanish Flu,” commonly used to denote the 1918 influenza pandemic, the last pandemic of COVID-19’s magnitude.
Historians and epidemiologists continue to debate where that outbreak originated, but they are confident it did not emerge in Spain. The name came about because the Spanish press — not subject to the same wartime censorship faced by countries involved in World War I — were free to report on the pandemic’s effects.
It is still unclear where or how the coronavirus originated, though most early cases are linked to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China. Just this week, a team of World Health Organization officials arrived in Wuhan to probe the origin of the virus.
The letter also repeatedly downplays the effectiveness of measures to stem COVID-19. It falsely asserts that face coverings cause respiratory disease and pneumonia and that such diseases have proliferated throughout the country since an increase in nationwide lockdowns.
There is no evidence of potential infection from normal use of face coverings. Doctors and health officials recommend that cloth face coverings be washed regularly. Davidson Hamer, an infectious disease specialist at Boston University, told the Associated Press that bacterial growth in masks is possible if someone wears a moldy mask.
“I don’t know why anybody would do that,” he told the AP.
Mills spokesperson Lindsay Crete defended the governor’s policies Friday, saying they had led Maine to have some of the lowest rates of coronavirus infections and deaths in the country.
“The governor has been working hard every day to protect the lives and livelihoods of Maine people,” Crete said. “She refuses to make the pandemic political, and her administration will continue to balance public and economic health as we put a lid on this deadly virus.”
On Facebook, the responses to the county commissioners’ post of the resolution text were negative, with people from across Piscataquis County accusing the commissioners of sullying the county’s image.
White said he had received positive reactions.
Trisha Smith of Dover-Foxcroft said that she was angered and saddened by the statement. She said it was hateful and did not represent the community where she had grown up.
“I just hope that those of us who do not support this sort of rhetoric and the policies that result … have the courage to speak out,” she said. “Because there are more of us than there are of them.”