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 businesses allowed to reopen on Friday will be able to receive badges from the state saying they will adhere to health standards aimed at slowing the coronavirus, but regulators will not initially verify that the practices are being followed.
Businesses including barber shops, salons and car dealerships can reopen on Friday as part of Gov. Janet Mills’ plan to gradually reopen Maine’s economy. The four-phase plan aims to allow businesses to recover from the coronavirus-induced shutdown while preventing a resurgence of a disease that has sickened 1,056 people and killed 52 in the state as of Wednesday.
Some personal services and outdoor businesses such as golf courses are among those permitted to reopen under the first phase of Mills’ plan. Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, said on Wednesday that other businesses can still apply to reopen, saying the system was “built on flexibility.”
To reopen, businesses must commit to complying with the requirements developed by the state in concert with industry leaders. A sample checklist posted on the department’s website includes directives such as providing gloves to employees who touch high-contact surfaces and closing customer lounges or waiting areas.
Businesses that fill out a form on the department’s website can receive a badge to signify to consumers that they are following public health protocols. But the distribution of those badges will be on the honor system. The state will not be verifying that businesses are effectively following every measure on the checklist.
“We are counting on this partnership between consumers, employees and businesses all working to a similar goal, which is opening the economy and keeping everybody safe,” Johnson said in response to a reporter’s question.
She said that the department would “start with education” if businesses were found to be “operating in different modes.”
Mills, a Democrat, issued a stay-at-home order at the end of March requiring nonessential businesses to shutter their doors and barring residents from participating in most public activities. On Tuesday, she announced her plan to reopen the economy in phases while extending parts of the stay-at-home order through May. She did so formally on Wednesday.
Curtis Picard, president of the Retail Association of Maine, noted that the badges rolled out as part of the plan were “more of a marketing tool,” though he said most retail establishments felt they could get necessary supplies, such as facial coverings, and would be able to follow the health measures that essential businesses have already been following.
Picard added, however, that retailers did not want to be put in the position of enforcing state rules, such as a new requirement that Maine residents wear cloth face coverings in settings where physical distancing is not possible.
“If a customer comes in, even if a customer is supposed to be wearing a mask, we don’t feel that it’s our place to enforce that,” Picard said.
Watch: The difference between a face mask and face covering