The Aroostook County Courthouse in Houlton, Maine. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

CARIBOU, Maine — Aroostook County will require masks in all county-owned buildings starting Friday to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among its roughly 90 staff members.

So far, there has been no spread among the county staff and the mandate is precautionary, though County Administrator Ryan Pelletier said that several employees had contracted the virus or were exposed to someone who had, and were isolating as of Wednesday.

COVID-19 outbreaks in Southern and Central Aroostook have put The County right back at case levels seen during the height of the pandemic, while vaccination rates have stagnated at around 60 percent.

Courthouses, which rent property from the county, had already been mandating masks among unvaccinated people, but the new mandate requires all county employees and visitors to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

Employees will not be required to wear masks outside of County property, but Pelletier said the mandate is aimed at preventing spread within the buildings.

“As these folks are out and about in the community, some of them are becoming in contact with or being exposed to these different COVID outbreaks,” Pelletier said. “It’s becoming a real difficult challenge to manage the CDC guidelines, our own protocols and making sure we have people available for work.”

Earlier this year, an outbreak at the Aroostook County Jail shut the facility down for several weeks — an outcome Pelletier said the county is trying to avoid at all costs.

Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.