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State modifies reopening plan for rural counties

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Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks at a news conference where she announced new plans for the stay-at-home order on April 28, in Augusta, Maine. Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks at a news conference where she announced new plans for the stay-at-home order on April 28, in Augusta, Maine. (AP photo/Robert F Bukaty)

Mills to allow retailers and restaurants to open, keeps stay-at-home order in place

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AUGUSTA – Gov. Janet Mills on Friday announced a modification to her four-phase reopening plan. The plan, which will allow retailers to open Monday, May 11, 2020 and restaurants to open a week later on May 18, 2020, will roll out to the 12 counties in Maine where community transmission has not occurred.

“Today I'd like to announce a rural reopening plan that is aimed at reopening certain additional businesses in more rural parts of our state over the next several weeks,” she said during the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (Maine CDC) daily press briefing. “I'm specifically referring to the counties where community transmission of the coronavirus is not present and where there are significantly fewer cases of the virus.”

Mills’ modified order affects Aroostook, Franklin, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford, Piscataquis, Sagadahoc, Somerset, Waldo and Washington counties. Androscoggin, Cumberland, Penobscot and York counties will remain closed for those business sectors, Mills said at the briefing.

Sources of the transmission of the virus have not been able to be tracked to a large degree in those counties by the Maine CDC’s contact tracing investigators, meaning some of those afflicted by COVID-19 couldn’t trace their cases back to a certain person or situation from where they contracted it.

“We are very pleased that Governor Mills and her team worked closely with us to allow a considerable number of retailers to safely reopen next week,” Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine, said in a press release issued by the governor’s office. “In addition to helping the economy recover, the ability for people to help support their local stores will help everyone's mental well-being. Make no mistake, it is imperative that retailers and customers shop safely and abide by the guidelines. Doing so will help the industry continue to open in the coming weeks.”

Under the plan, retail stores and restaurants will be permitted to open in-store and some dine-in services, respectively – with enhanced safety precautions – in the 12 allowed counties. Retail stores in those allowed counties will be permitted to open with added health and safety precautions. These include but are not limited to: restricting the number of customers in a store at one time; enhanced cleaning practices; and touch-free transactions whenever possible.

Restaurants in those same counties will be permitted to open with added health and safety precautions including physically distancing customers; ensuring employees follow enhanced hygiene and sanitation practices; and controlling customer flow through reservations whenever possible.

The May 11 and May 18 timelines align with the opening of the same businesses in New Hampshire.

Mills outlined additional steps for restaurants to take during the briefing Friday, including moving to outdoor seating while keeping indoor dining limited, using condiment packets instead of traditional bottles, using laminated menus, eliminating the use of tablets to minimize customer touchpoints, close salad bars and kiosks, and having servers work zones instead of crisscrossing the floor.

She also announced other statewide adjustment to her previous closure order, saying remote campsites and sporting camps that provide access to wilderness activities like canoeing, hiking, hunting and fishing may also reopen in those same 12 counties beginning Monday May 18 with public health safeguards.

“We're also making some small adjustments to the plan on a statewide basis as well, for instance fitness and exercise centers which were initially categorized in stage 2 will now be permitted to open on May 11th, which is next Monday, for outdoor classes of 10 people or less, also one on one personal training instruction – it's one at a time – inside the gym,” she said. “We are asking fitness instructors and personal trainers to use the general health and safety guidance that we are establishing.”

According to the press release, the newly eligible businesses are permitted to open but are not required to do so. Additionally, Mills said the plan does not preclude a municipality from adopting additional public health measures related to re-openings, including applying additional restrictions on establishments within their jurisdiction.

Throughout the process, the Maine CDC is monitoring epidemiological data, such as case trends and hospitalization rates, as well as health care readiness and capacity, to inform decisions on the safety of proceeding through stages and lifting restrictions. The Administration will also continue to evaluate standards outlined in the Governor’s vision statement, such as testing capacity and contact tracing, to inform decisions about proceeding. Yesterday, Governor Mills announced that her Administration secured a major expansion of testing through a new partnership with Maine-based IDEXX Laboratories Inc.

Adjusted for population size, Maine ranked sixth lowest in the nation in terms of positive cases; 36th in the nation in terms of deaths; 27th in terms of patients ever-hospitalized out of the 32 states reporting; and 10th in the percentage of people who have recovered out of the 38 states reporting as of yesterday.

For now, retail stores and restaurants in York, Cumberland, Androscoggin, and Penobscot counties, where community transmission of COVID-19 has been established, will not be permitted to reopen until June 1, the proposed start date for Stage 2 of the Governor’s Restarting Maine’s Economy plan. However, all retail stores in Maine can provide curbside pickup while restaurants can continue to provide take-away and delivery services, as they have been allowed to do throughout the state of civil emergency. Guidelines issued today for rural retail stores and restaurants will apply to retail and restaurants in counties of community transmission slated to open June 1.

Mills also said during questioning at the press briefing that her “Stay Safer at Home” executive order will remain in place.

Last modified on Saturday, 09 May 2020 12:00

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