AUGUSTA — Governor Janet Mills announced May 8 a rural reopening plan aimed at reopening certain additional businesses in rural Maine over the course of the next two weeks with added health and safety measures.
The plan comes after Governor Mills stated last week that her Administration was considering opportunities for regional variation as part of its Restarting Maine’s Economy plan.
It also follows the announcement of a partnership with IDEXX Laboratories that will more than triple the State’s testing capacity.
Under the plan, retail stores and restaurants will be permitted to open to in-store and some dine-in service, respectively — with enhanced safety precautions — in counties where community transmission is not present.
Those counties are Aroostook, Piscataquis, Washington, Hancock, Somerset, Franklin, Oxford, Kennebec, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, and Sagadahoc.
Retail stores in these counties are permitted to open on Monday, May 11 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 these same counties are permitted to open on Monday, May 18 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.
Restaurant owners are also being asked to limit staff members to working in the same designated areas for their entire shifts and also limit the sharing of items such as pens, credit cards and receipts. Salad bars should be closed, the Governor said, and laminated menus should be used for easy cleaning.
The May 11 and May 18 timelines, according to a news release, align with the opening of the same businesses in New Hampshire.
Additionally, remote campsites as well as sporting camps, which provide access to wilderness activities such as canoeing, hiking, hunting or fishing, are also permitted to open with public health safeguards in these same counties only on Monday, May 18th to Maine residents or those who have completed the 14 day quarantine.
“With low case counts, no evidence of community transmission, and, now, expanded testing capacity, we believe it is appropriate to gradually lift some limitations on certain businesses in our rural counties with health and safety precautions to protect public health,” said Governor Mills.
“Small businesses are the backbone of rural economies, and we are glad that expanded testing allows for additional rural businesses to more safely open while following guidelines that will help keep Mainers healthy,” said Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. “Businesses have given us constructive suggestions on how they can improve the safety of their work, and we look forward to that continued engagement as we examine how to reopen the economy while protecting public health.”
In announcing these changes, the Administration today also released the health and safety guidance that rural retail stores and restaurants must follow.
This guidance comes in the form of the COVID-19 Prevention Checklists, which have been created by the Department of Economic and Community Development in close collaboration with industry and public health experts. Review the checklists here. Sporting camps guidance is expected next week.
As with other businesses under the Governor’s plan, these establishments are permitted to open, but are not required to do so. Additionally, while the Governor’s strategy determines which types of businesses may reopen and when, it does not preclude a municipality from adopting additional public health measures related to reopenings, including applying additional restrictions on establishments within their jurisdiction.
“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,” said Curtis Picard, President and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine. “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.”
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.
The Mills Administration also announced the following statewide adjustments to Stage 1 of Restarting Maine’s Economy plan:
Fitness and exercise gyms, initially categorized in Stage 2, will now be permitted to open on May 11 for outdoor classes of 10 or less. One-on-one personal training inside fitness centers will be also be permitted.
The Administration continues to work closely and collaboratively with various sectors of Maine’s economy as well as public health experts to determine the best path forward to protect the health and safety of Maine people and gradually restart the economy, a press release noted.
The Administration continues to work closely with the tourism and hospitality industries to develop strategies that will allow for a safe tourism season, per a release.
Governor Mills continues to urge Maine people, especially those who are more vulnerable to the virus such as older Mainers and those with underlying health conditions, to stay healthy at home, a release noted.
Physical distancing and practicing good hygiene, like frequent hand washing with soap and warm water, are effective strategies to stay healthy and protect yourself against COVID-19.