As of noon Wednesday, March 18, 30 Maine residents have been confirmed positive and 12 others are presumed positive for the coronavirus, according to the state. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.
AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Gov. Janet Mills announced stricter limits on public gatherings on Wednesday, ordering restaurants and bars to stop dine-in service for two weeks, banning social gatherings of more than 10 people and urging many private businesses to close.
Restaurants and bars will close to dine-in patrons for 14 days as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, though takeout, delivery and drive-thru services are allowed. Social gathering restrictions apply to community, civic, public, leisure, religious and sporting events under a statewide emergency order issued Sunday. They include concerts, conventions, fundraisers and parades.
Mills said grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies and other businesses considered essential should continue to operate, but the governor said that other establishments across the state should close, including gyms, theaters, casinos and shopping malls.
“The things that we’ve all sort of taken for granted for many years, our lifestyles are changing for now,” Mills said. “But we will get through this. Things will get better.”
The announcement came at a Wednesday news conference at which Mills signed a $73 million spending bill largely aimed at the virus along with a targeted response package expanding unemployment insurance, allowing towns and schools to operate on current budgets until January and giving Mills authority to reschedule the June primary elections or expand absentee voting.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday there were 42 confirmed or presumptive cases of the virus, with 23 of them in Cumberland County, where there is evidence of people who have not traveled internationally passing the virus to others.
It is unclear how Mills aims to enforce the new gathering restrictions. On Wednesday, she declined to outline possible ways, but Maine law gives the governor wide power to suspend laws or issue orders after declaring emergencies. Police are empowered to enforce orders and it is a misdemeanor crime to refuse compliance with a “just or reasonable order.”
Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce, the president of the Maine Sheriffs Association, said his office’s operations were not changing immediately after the new order, though “we might look at” enforcing it later if egregious violations are found. He said he hasn’t seen that so far.
“I don’t think we’re at martial law yet where we’re trying to shut people down,” Joyce said. “People are trying to do the right thing.”
Many places of worship had already stopped services before the Wednesday order, including the Roman Catholic diocese covering Maine. Carroll Conley, the executive director of the evangelical Christian Civic League of Maine, estimated that roughly 90 percent of its member churches are not meeting in person while they find other ways to “shepherd the flock.”
On Sunday, Mills recommended that Mainers stop holding events with more than 50 people and they stop gathering of more than 10 people if vulnerable people are involved. She also recommended the indefinite closure of all schools in the state, though many had already closed. State government is continuing to operate, although the major employees’ union urged Mills to send many workers home this week.
Maine joins at least 22 other states in curtailing restaurant service, according to Food and Wine. Mills said on Wednesday she was not considering a shelter-in-place order that would bar nonessential travel down to the local level. Such provisions are being used in areas hard-hit by the virus, including Palm Springs, California.
BDN writer Jessica Piper contributed to this report.
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