Protesters and other loud voices who are condemning Gov. Janet Mills for continuing coronavirus-related restrictions might have you believe that Maine is somehow unusual in continuing limits on businesses and other activity to slow the spread of the virus.
Governors in every state in the country announced states of emergency and put coronavirus-related restrictions in place. Many of those states are slowly easing stay-at-home orders and other safety-related provisions, just as Maine is doing.
Some states have much quicker timelines than Maine. Others, especially in the northeast, are keeping restrictions in place longer.
This is not to say that Maine should necessarily follow what other states are doing. Instead, it shows that every governor is grappling with the difficult decisions of weighing protecting public health with the dire economic consequences of shuttered businesses and employees out of work. The consequences of moving too quickly or too slowly can both be severe.
Allowing people to congregate inside and close together — at restaurants, churches, stores — too soon could lead to a resurgence of coronavirus, which will sicken and kill more and lead to a reimposition of restrictions.
Requiring businesses to remain closed or with reduced activity will cause some to close permanently, putting employees out of work, which will have negative ripple effects through their families and communities.
Maine is one of 24 states that has begun to ease restrictions, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
As part of a four-stage reopening plan unveiled last week, Mills allowed some businesses that had been shuttered by coronavirus-related restrictions to reopen on Friday. These included hair salons, barber shops, pet groomers and golf courses.
Additional businesses, including restaurants, day camps and fitness centers, are slated to be able to resume fuller operations on June 1, with restrictions. Lodging for Maine residents and visitors who have met quarantine requirements would be allowed beginning June 1. Bars, nail salons and tattoo parlors could reopen July 1.
An analysis by BDN reporter Jessica Piper found that Maine is allowing businesses to reopen more quickly than most other states.
For example, Maine is the only New England state with a plan to allow dine-in service inside restaurants, which is slated to begin June 1. Restaurant service in Maine is currently limited to take-out and delivery. Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut have no plans, as of now, to allow dining in restaurants. New Hampshire will allow outdoor seating beginning May 18 and Rhode Island is developing plans for outdoor dining but has not finalized those plans or set a date.
All New England states, except Rhode Island, have required hotels to close to most guests. Maine is currently the only state with a plan to allow them to reopen.
However, the Mills administration has so far kept in place a requirement that people coming to Maine, both visitors and residents returning to the state from elsewhere, quarantine for 14 days. The plan unveiled last week would keep the quarantine in place for much of the summer, which could be devastating to Maine’s tourism industry.
Twenty-three other states had quarantines or other restrictions for travelers at the end of April, although some states are easing those restrictions.
As Mills has said, flexibility in reopening timelines remains essential. If Maine’s coronavirus situation improves, speeding up business openings may be appropriate. If the situation worsens, a longer timeline for easing restrictions could be warranted.
Mills indicated on Wednesday that the state is considering a more regional approach to easing restrictions and other changes to the reopening plan could be announced in coming days. An announcement Thursday that the state is greatly expanding its coronavirus testing capacity could alter the state’s plan, Mills said.
A quicker timetable may become appropriate, but, as she warns, the virus does not respect borders. So caution remains necessary as people travel from county to county or come to Maine from states with much worse COVID-19 outbreaks.
Maine, of course, is not alone in facing these challenges. Nor is it alone in making difficult decisions about easing some restrictions while continuing others. Continued constructive public input is vital in helping guide these decisions.
Correction: This editorial has been updated to reflect the date that some lodging will be allowed to resume in Maine.