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Commission backs firing of jail administrator over outbreak

June 23, 2021 GMT

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — County commissioners agreed with the sheriff’s recommendation to fire the administrator of a jail that dealt with one of the state’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks last year.

Michael Vitiello, who ran the York County Jail for two decades, was recommended for dismissal Friday by county commissioners after an investigation and recommendation by Sheriff William King. Vitiello will likely appeal the decision, his attorney said.

Vitiello had been on administrative leave since September following an outbreak involving at least 96 cases of the virus among staff and inmates.

An investigation concluded that the virus was brought into the jail by a corrections officer who attended a wedding in the Katahdin region that became a superspreader event.

One of the key issues, according to the investigation, was that no masks were required inside the jail except during the intake process. The lack of a mask mandate raised fears among staff and inmates.

King wrote in a letter that Vitiello “balked” when he suggested corrections officers wear masks.

“The masking issue, which was in fact crucial, left us vulnerable,” King wrote.

Vitiello said he felt the issue had to be negotiated with the union. He also said his position evolved over time, noting that early on he was concerned that masks might cause panic in the jail population.

His attorney, Michael Waxman, said it’s unfortunate that the jail had an outbreak but he noted that there were eight outbreaks in Maine even after the Department of Corrections tightened up rules for staff and inmates. One of them was larger than the York County Jail outbreak, he said.

“Michael ends up being the head that has to roll because something bad, and perhaps unavoidable, happened,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that Mike Vitiello is the one who has to be thrown under the bus. It’s not fair.”

In other pandemic-related news:

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THE NUMBERS

The state’s numbers continue to dip.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Maine has gone from 73 new cases per day on June 7 to 33 new cases per day on June 21.

On Wednesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported reported just 13 new infections. There also were two deaths, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 856.

More than 57% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated against coronavirus. Several thousand people have gotten first doses since the state announced a sweepstakes that could award a vaccinated person more than $900,000, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said.

Maine has vaccinated a higher percentage of its residents than most states, but the delta variant of the coronavirus is cause for concern, Shah said. There have been four cases of the variant in the state so far.

The mutant version accounts for more than a fifth of new COVID-19 infections in the U.S., the CDC said on Tuesday.

“The delta variant threatens to undermines the progress we’ve made,” Shah said. “Not being vaccinated leaves you, your family and your community at greater risk.”

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PASSENGER TO BE FINED

The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed a fine of $14,000 for a passenger on a flight to Portland International Jetport who the agency said refused to wear a mask properly.

Flight attendants repeatedly told the woman to wear the mask properly during a February flight from New York City to Portland, the FAA said. The passenger, who was not named, was also cited for taking her seat belt off and standing up while the “fasten seat belt” sign was on, WMTW-TV reported.

The FAA has proposed $563,800 in fines for unruly passengers since Jan. 1, WMTW-TV reported.

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EMERGENCY ORDER

Maine is counting down to the end of a pandemic emergency order, which expires in a week.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills announced the “state of civil emergency” in the early days of the pandemic. It has allowed Mills to deploy all government resources to try to reduce the spread of the virus in Maine.

Mills has said the emergency order is set to expire on June 30. She has called the end of the emergency order “another important step forward in our return to normal.”

Democrats and Republicans in the state have long debated whether the emergency order has gone on for too long. Most Democrats have characterized it as an important piece of the state’s recovery, but many Republicans have said it has given Mills too much authority.