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AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills suggested on Monday that she might reduce restrictions on businesses when a stay-at-home order expires at the end of April, but she told Mainers to “stay the course” on public health measures aimed at slowing the coronavirus.
Mills told reporters she was likely to extend parts of a stay-at-home order in effect through Thursday. She signaled a shift by saying some restrictions might be lifted gradually based on whether workplaces can “conduct business safely” and not whether businesses are considered “essential, saying she would announce a plan for extending the order on Tuesday.
“If we stay on this path, our numbers should improve and we can start a road to recovery,” she said. “I believe in Maine people. I believe we have a bright future. Stay the course, stay safe.”
Last week, the Democratic governor outlined a gradual approach to reopening the economy, but she gave few specifics and only released a list of principles. She said any plan would rely on the increased availability of tests for the virus, which have been in short supply nationally. Republicans have put increasing pressure on the governor on the issue in recent days.
Still, the state’s response to the virus drew 74 percent approval in a poll released earlier this month. Only eight states have begun to lift restrictions on business activity and social gatherings that were intended to slow the spread of the virus, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Maine has had 1,023 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 51 deaths as of Monday.
Under Mills’ stay-at-home order, people have been allowed to leave home to go to essential jobs or purchase necessities, though they can exercise outdoors while keeping at least 6 feet from people outside their household. Restaurants have been closed to dine-in service since mid-March. Non-essential businesses are closed, including salons, casinos and gyms.
Mills’ measures have drawn support from much of the business lobby, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. There has been anxiety in rural areas with fewer confirmed cases of the virus. Hundreds of conservatives protested restrictions in Augusta last week.
Former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who has said he may run against Mills in 2022, issued a Facebook post last week advocating for reopening businesses in rural areas immediately. House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, called that a “starting point” for what she hoped in a Monday statement would be a bipartisan conversation on reopening.
For her part, Mills reiterated on Monday that reopening businesses would be contingent on continued low counts of cases in Maine. Virus-related hospitalizations began declining here in the last half of April, but the state remains concerned with outbreaks in long-term care facilities.
“If the loosening of certain restrictions causes a spike in COVID-19 cases, we’ll be closing the door,” the governor said. “The restrictions will have to be reinstated, and we’ll try again.”
Watch: Janet Mills extends civil emergency in Maine