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Citing increased hospitalizations from the new coronavirus, Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday delayed the reopening of restaurants in Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties beyond June 1, saying she would revisit the openings later.
Those three counties have the highest numbers of coronavirus cases. They may now offer outside dining service beginning June 1, but not dine-in eating. Restaurants in Penobscot County may reopen inside and outside on June 1 using safety precautions including physical distancing and enhanced sanitation practices, she said. Retail stores in all four counties can reopen indoor shopping.
At a Wednesday news conference, Mills said she based her decision on data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, including hospitalizations and rising case counts related to the virus. Fifty-nine Mainers are hospitalized now, with 25 in intensive care, according to the CDC. That was up from 41 last Thursday with the uptick tied to long-term care facilities in southern Maine.
The governor had earlier relaxed restrictions to allow retailers and restaurants to reopen on May 18 with health restrictions in 12 mostly rural Maine counties. Cumberland, York, Androscoggin and Penobscot, the four remaining counties that have community spread, were scheduled to reopen those businesses on June 1.
Steve Hewins, president of HospitalityMaine, an industry group, said Mills’ announcement was disappointing, but restaurants would forge ahead and many were not ready to open on June 1 anyhow, particularly in York County. He said the industry is taking coronavirus precautions seriously and hopes public health officials take notice as they make decisions.
“We encourage our members to do outdoor dining, which is predominantly what people want to do anyhow, until the in-house dining is allowed, which hopefully won’t be too far in the future,” Hewins said.
Mills also said the rules on gatherings will increase from 10 to 50 people on June 1. She had considered postponing the increase in the three counties, but decided to let them have gatherings to 50 people like all other counties, she said. She will continue the controversial mandate for a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors.
The Maine CDC said Wednesday that two more Mainers have died and 28 more coronavirus cases have been detected in Maine, bringing the total to 2,137 cases in all counties since the outbreak began here in March.
On Tuesday, the Mills administration announced plans to gradually increase its contact tracing staff by up to 175 people and launch a new reporting system to accompany increased testing for the new coronavirus. Restaurants also must take the first name and phone number of one person at each seating area for contract tracing purposes.
Mills launched a plan in late April to reopen Maine’s economy in four stages. Guidelines for the safety measures businesses are expected to meet have been rolled out since then on the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development’s website.
State officials have hinted at broader rural reopenings as brewers, tourism industry proponents, camps and others have asked for earlier openings if they can maintain personal distancing mandates for safety.
BDN writer Nick Schroeder contributed to this report.
Watch: Janet Mills shares changes for rural businesses