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PORTLAND, Maine — Many businesses had already closed and sent employees home before the city of Portland ordered a shutdown of all nonessential businesses here on Tuesday.
The emergency order only allows residents to leave their homes to access essential services such as grocery stores, pharmacies and a handful of other businesses during the coronavirus outbreak, though outdoor exercise and dog walking are permitted. Failure to comply with the “stay-at-home” mandate is punishable by a $500 fine per incident, plus the costs of prosecution.
Companies that don’t provide such essential services must shut brick-and-mortar locations in Portland by 5 p.m. Wednesday for at least five days. That’s the maximum amount of time the city can shut down in a state of emergency, according to the city charter.
Portland councilors are expected to host a remote meeting on Monday when City Manager Jon Jennings said he would recommend an extension of the order.
Portland’s move follows other cities and states across the country as they try to contain the spreading coronavirus. California was the first state to order residents to stay at home and avoid contact with other people in an effort to contain the virus. Hawaii and other states followed, as did cities, including Denver and Atlanta.
Because of the state’s relatively sparse population, Gov. Janet Mills has avoided a broader mandate for residents outside Maine’s biggest metro area to stay off the streets. But Mills did order public-facing businesses that are nonessential to close just after 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
“Today’s news is important in that the state and city are taking leadership roles. But the majority of businesses are already complying with these requirements,” said Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the 1,300-member Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. The chamber’s eight employees have been working remotely since last week.
WEX, the financial technology services company with 1,500 employees in Maine, closed all of its facilities worldwide as of last Friday.
“All nonessential employees are safely working at home,” spokesperson Robert Gould said. “All 5,000 of our employees worldwide are working from home. We are completely technologically equipped to work from home. I work in the headquarters building and I can tell you that working from home has been business as usual for me.”
Covetrus, a veterinary services company, is considered an essential service, but last week all of its Portland staff except those in its pharmacy began working at home, spokesperson Kini Schoop said.
Quincy said many businesses that are considered nonessential can still keep operating and provide services from behind closed doors.
Longfellow Books said in an email to customers that it is waiving shipping costs for customers.
But businesses that rely on bringing people together physically, such as arts venues, could suffer the most, Hentzel said.
The State Theatre and Port City Music Hall said in an email to customers that the two venues will remain closed until the dates specified by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the state of Maine.
“While the temporary closure of our business through May has been devastating to us — and especially to our staff — we do so with the determination that we will all come out on the other side stronger and in a brighter place,” the message said. “Our hope is that we are able to reschedule as many of the affected events as possible, but at this time there might not be information on new dates.”
The theater and music hall are in the process of rescheduling or postponing their May shows. There were 48 events scheduled through the end of May, including Melissa Etheridge and Lyle Lovett concerts. If a new date is announced, tickets will be valid. If a show can’t be rescheduled, ticket holders will get a refund.
And while the order allows essential construction services for infrastructure upkeep, it also allows construction businesses with existing or ongoing projects, such as hotels, to operate as long as workers are at least 6 feet from any other person.
BDN writers Troy Bennett and Nick Schroeder contributed to this report.