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Hundreds of Mainers gathered outside the state capitol and governor’s residence in Augusta on Saturday in the second protest of coronavirus restrictions the state has seen in recent weeks.
According to Augusta Chief of Police Jared Mills, there appeared to be more protesters at this rally than at the first, which happened April 20. That rally attracted 300 to 400 demonstrators on foot and another 200 in vehicles, according to police estimates.
“We were happy it was a peaceful event,” he told the Bangor Daily News in an email.
Multiple business groups have pushed back against Gov. Janet Mills’ plan to reopen Maine’s economy, particularly those in the tourism industry, who have said that the plan will not move quickly enough to save the upcoming summer season.
“I think it will trickle down. It’s gonna hurt our economy for a long time to come. Open the state back up. Let the tourists come,” protestor Noah Hall, who owns a paint store in Bangor, told WGME.
The first phase of Maine’s reopening began on Friday, allowing businesses such as hair salons and dentist’s offices to resume operations while following certain precautions. However, many businesses that depend on the state’s tourism economy — such as hotels — won’t be able to open until July 1 under Gov. Mills’ plan. In addition, those coming to Maine from out of state will be required to quarantine for 14 days.
Restaurants won’t be able to open for dine-in service until June 1 under the state’s plan, and bars won’t be able to reopen until July 1. That has prompted objections from the restaurant industry, including a letter to the governor last week that called the phased-reopening of the state’s economy “a death march for restaurants.”
On Friday, one restaurant owner in Bethel reopened for dine-in service, attracting more than 150 customers. He lost his state health and liquor licenses in response. The restaurant owner, Rick Savage of Sunday River Brewing Co., was a speaker at Saturday’s Augusta rally, the Kennebec Journal reports.
The governor’s phased-reopening plan keeps in place a prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 people until June 1, when the maximum gathering size rises to 50. It also requires that people wear face coverings in public places where they can’t keep their distance from others. Most protesters Saturday were not wearing face coverings, WGME reported.
The governor has warned that the reopening plan could change if the state sees a resurgence of coronavirus cases.
Protest organizer state Rep. Chris Johansen, R-Monticello, acknowledged the rally would violate the state’s prohibitions on public gatherings. But he said last week that he would try to adhere to a local Augusta ordinance that prohibits gatherings of more than 200 people without a permit by limiting the number of people on foot and having others participate in the rally in their vehicles.
Mills, the Augusta police chief, said the department issued no citations Saturday. He didn’t have an estimate of how many people participated.
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.
Watch: State labor commissioner speaks to unemployed Mainers