Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support our critical reporting on the coronavirus by purchasing a digital subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.
AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Gov. Janet Mills said on Tuesday she has been talking with the governors of New Hampshire and Vermont about how to eventually reopen the economies of the northern New England states after the threat of the new coronavirus recedes.
The plans of the three governors were largely undefined on Tuesday, but they looked to be more informal than other efforts to develop interstate frameworks on lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. New York is leading a six-state group that includes Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island with a similar California-led effort afoot in western states.
The parallel state efforts come as President Donald Trump, a Republican, has said he wants to assert authority over when restrictions on movement and businesses are lifted, but governors and local officials are the ones who issued restrictions and would be the ones to lift them. Each of the three northern New England states has a stay-at-home order in effect.
Mills, a Democrat, told reporters at a Tuesday news conference that the three governors are discussing “how and when to lift any restrictions based on the medical evidence.” Maine’s current order directing residents to remain home and nonessential businesses to close their public-facing operations expires May 1, but it could be renewed.
A reopening does not appear close. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top federal infectious disease expert, has said social-distancing rules developed nationally in the absence of widely available testing would have to be rolled back gradually once the virus recedes.
Mills echoed Fauci by saying testing must increase before governors can discuss the timing of lifting restrictions, while New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said at a briefing in Concord on Tuesday it will not be “in the next couple of weeks” but could be “this summer.”
“That is really the question of the hour and I cannot answer it because we’re taking it day by day, hour by hour, and that’s what all the governors in our area are doing,” Mills said.
The three northern New England states are similar in their largely rural and older populations. They also look to be at similar points in their outbreaks. Maine reported 734 cases and 20 deaths due to the virus Tuesday, while Vermont has had 752 cases and 29 deaths. New Hampshire, the most populated of the three states, has reported 1,020 cases and 23 deaths.
Mills told reporters that Maine was not part of the New York-led effort because the state differs from southern New England and mid-Atlantic states in its ruralness and tourism-based economy. Mills and Sununu said the states are coordinating because of the connectedness of their economies, though Sununu, a Republican, said they may not move in “lockstep.”
“We all want to have an understanding of where we are and all the governors have been working very, very well together, very closely,” he said.
Watch: What does returning to normal look like?