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Just a few of Maine’s confirmed cases of the coronavirus have so far come from Penobscot County, but that hasn’t stopped Bangor from adopting the strictest measures of any community in the state to prevent the spread of the infection.
Over the past week, the Queen City has gone from limiting the hours when bars, restaurants and gathering places could open to mandating the closure of certain types of businesses such as casinos, theaters and yoga studios.
Now, a new order that took effect at 6 p.m. Monday requires that all nonessential businesses close for a period of time. The orders will only be lifted seven days after the termination of a separate statewide emergency declaration from Gov. Janet Mills.
Among the businesses that will now have to close are hair and nail salons and stores that exclusively provide goods such as crafts, jewelry and video games, according to City Council Chair Clare Davitt. There are also some larger stores out by the Bangor Mall, such as Books-a-Million, that are closing as a result of the order. Davitt added that the city is implementing a process for businesses to petition for a determination that they are essential.
“We felt a lot of businesses have done voluntary closures, which we appreciate, but at a certain point we felt like we needed to do more,” Davitt said.
The goal of the new restrictions is to maximize the number of people who are staying home and keeping their distance from others to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The city’s code enforcement office spent Monday informing businesses about the emergency regulations. While many businesses have been voluntarily complying with them, the city does have the ability to issue written warning and fines if they are not followed, according to City Solicitor Paul Nicklas.
The city put together its list of essential businesses by looking at emergency regulations from Maine and other states such as New York, California and Pennsylvania, Nicklas said. That list includes hospitals, pharmacies, banks, grocery stores, gas stations, day cares, schools (to facilitate remote learning), laundromats and hardware stores, among others. It also includes some less conventional choices, such as places that supply goods for working from home and medical marijuana facilities.
It also allows for businesses that close to be staffed by just one person “in order to perform necessary business functions that do not involve in-person contact with others.”
Health care officials are in wide agreement that such “social distancing” will be necessary to prevent the virus from spreading so quickly that it overwhelms the health care system. But such an approach can be difficult because of the devastating effect that it has on local businesses and the economy as a whole.
Dr. Noah Nesin, the vice president of medical affairs for Penobscot Community Health Care, praised Bangor’s diligence in implementing the new restrictions and said that more nearby communities such as Brewer, Hampden, Orono, Old Town and Glenburn — as well as the whole state — should do the same.
While some of those municipalities may feel a sense of security about the fact that just three cases of COVID-19 have so far been confirmed in Penobscot County, Nesin said that those figures make it all the more important for them to take preventive measures now.
Bangor is “leading the state in forming what is really not an abundance of caution, but an appropriate level of precaution,” Nesin said. “Now is the time when social distancing can have its greatest impact. Ultimately, the best solution would be a statewide declaration like Bangor has already made.”
Mills has declared a statewide emergency and imposed some restrictions on businesses, such as banning social gatherings of more than 10 people and imposing a 14-day order that restaurants stop serving dine-in meals. But she has not gone so far as to require nonessential businesses to close, and Nesin was not aware of any other communities besides Bangor that have imposed such restrictions.
Mills is now planning to review the state’s current restrictions before they expire next week and determine whether they need to be revised or renewed, according to Scott Ogden, her spokesperson. She is also considering the value of regulations like the ones that Bangor has implemented and consulting with state health officials, clinicians, health system leaders and other states.
Mills is considering “the public health efficacy of such an order compared to existing measures, Maine-specific factors, and the potential secondary health and economic implications of such orders,” Ogden said. “The governor will make recommendations based upon their advice and what she deems is in the best interest of the health and safety of Maine people.”
Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease