In this Dec. 22, 2020, file photo, a sign on the door to a Portland building instructs visitors to wear a mask. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The Androscoggin County Sheriff and his staff will not attend future public meetings in-person as attendees continue to forgo mask wearing, he announced on Thursday.

The announcement comes after Androscoggin commissioners voted 4-3 on Wednesday to postpone a resolution defying a statewide mask mandate enacted by Gov. Janet Mills.

In a letter to commissioners, Sheriff Eric Samson encouraged that meetings be offered virtually and that his stance is not political in nature, but for the safety of him and his staff, the Lewiston Sun Journal reported.

Samson was at the commissioners meeting on Wednesday and was asked to enforce the social distancing mandate for attendees, but was not asked to address the lack of mask wearing, the Sun Journal reported.

Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales, introduced an anti-mask resolution on Tuesday stating that Mill’s executive orders “restrict the liberty of Maine citizens to dress, work, exercise their religion, assemble, shop and conduct lives as they choose.”

The resolution also questioned the effectiveness of mask wearing, which has been proven by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Wednesday’s meeting got heated among attendees who were opposed to the commissioners’ vote with many calling them “cowards” for their decision. Many spoke at the meeting, but none were in support of Mills’ mandate to require all Mainers to wear masks in indoor public space.

At the meeting, William Kenniston of Livermore Falls said, “The government and mockingbird media want Mainers to blame other Mainers for the prolong suffering. Those in power are the ones hurting people of Maine by their action and inaction,” the Sun Journal reported.

As of Thursday, the Maine CDC has reported 4,433 cases and 54 deaths in Androscoggin County since the pandemic reached Maine last March. The county also has the second highest total case rate statewide with 411.69 cases per 10,000 residents.