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AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills has not joined other governors in ordering residents to shelter in place, relying more on recommendations than the types of edicts banning nonessential travel used in more populated states fighting the new coronavirus.
The number of confirmed cases ballooned to 107 on Monday, with 66 of them alone in Cumberland County, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Earlier this month, the Democratic governor declared a state of emergency followed by closing eateries to dine-in service, banning social gatherings of 10 or more and recommending that businesses such as shopping malls, gyms and theaters close.
Since Maine reported its first cases of the virus on March 12, its response has been relatively middle of the road among states. A top business advocate praised the governor’s “measured” response on Monday. A union official favored more drastic isolation measures, but said they must be combined with better income protections.
All states have declared emergencies and 37 have restricted restaurants or bars in ways similar to Maine. Nine others have issued a mandatory statewide quarantine. Another seven have closed nonessential businesses, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The states with a quarantine order — except for Oregon — are more densely populated than Maine. California has ordered most residents to stay home except to do necessary shopping or go to jobs deemed essential while ordering all nonessential businesses to close unless employees can work from home. Most states with similar restrictions follow that outline, while Bangor has issued a similar city order.
Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah told reporters on Monday that the state has considered that kind of “shelter-in-place” order amid a range of options. While reminding Mainers to practice “social distancing” — or leave home as little as possible and act as if the virus is in their communities, he said “life has to go on.” He highlighted the medical sector while noting a shortage of donated blood in Maine.
He also said there were epidemiological reasons why Maine should not be viewed in the same way as more densely populated places including New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue a shelter-in-place order that the governor has resisted.
Maine has 43 people per square mile and its largest city, Portland, has nearly 3,100 people by that measure. At the same time, Manhattan has nearly 67,000 people. That led Shah to say “Maine is not Manhattan” and that there are different considerations in play for state officials.
“We’re thinking about these things,” Shah said. “We’re thinking about them very intensely, and this is a glimpse of some of the considerations we’re keeping in mind as we evaluate this issue.”
Mills spokesperson Lindsay Crete said the governor 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.” Shah said on Monday that it was too early to gauge the effect of existing orders.
Dana Connors, the CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said businesses “recognize their place in this and everyone is, where they can, doing work remotely.” He praised Mills for a “very measured and very responsible” response to the outbreak.
Mills and the Maine Legislature passed a $73 million spending package and a separate coronavirus-focused bill last week, while the governor also led a bipartisan effort to expand the unemployment insurance program to workers affected by the virus. Negotiations around a massive federal stimulus bill bogged down in Congress on Monday.
Matt Schlobohm, the executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, said his labor-group coalition would support a shelter-in-place order as one of “the most stringent actions to protect public safety.” But he said it must be coupled with more income support, pointing to an unemployment overhaul and other priorities backed by the national affiliate.