Members of the Maine House take their oath of office at the Augusta Civic Center in this December file photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Top Democrats in the Maine Legislature on Thursday supported tightening a policy to bar the use of partial face shields in official space after a committee clerk quit citing coronavirus fears.

The review of coronavirus protocols came after a group of Republicans in the House of Representatives filmed themselves not wearing masks in the State House, an issue their leader said stemmed from a misunderstanding of rules. A reminder of the policies sent to lawmakers last week led to lawmakers venting over a reply-all thread about not being visibly at work.

That frustration spilled over into a subcommittee meeting of the panel of leaders that oversee the two chambers, on Thursday. Three Democrats indicated support for a proposal that would require lawmakers to wear coverings of the nose and mouth in legislative spaces where they are not alone. The full 10-person Legislative Council will consider it next week.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said lawmakers should “at minimum” be required to cover their faces while in legislative space, saying a committee clerk resigned over concerns that lawmakers not regularly wearing standard masks would work in the committee room.

“We already have people in the clerk’s position that have decided to not work in the office anymore because they feel their safety is not being protected,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, indicated support for such a move as long as the required covering met state health guidelines, but House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, spoke against voting for the proposal on Thursday without more information, saying it seemed that leaders were trying to bar members of her caucus from attending committee meetings in person.

She also said no objections had been raised to the use of shields covering only the mouth when legislators were sworn-in at the Augusta Civic Center of Dec. 2.

“When there have been issues of members not wearing the mask, we’ve addressed it, we’ve made it clear,” she said.

Current protocols require anyone in the State House to wear a covering that shields their mouth and nose unless they have a medical condition or are alone in their office or legislative space. If they are unable to wear a covering, they cannot attend committee meetings in person.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend face shields as a substitute for a mask. If it must be used, it recommends the shield wrap around the sides of your face and extend below the chin. The Maine CDC specifies that a face shield could be used as an alternative to a mask, but does not define length of the shields.

Committee members indicated they would want feedback from the Maine CDC on the policy. Maine CDC director Nirav Shah said last Friday that he had not heard of the partial shields, but he did not think they would be effective in preventing spread of the virus.