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AUGUSTA, Maine — Restaurants in Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties will be allowed to resume dine-in service on Wednesday, joining those in the rest of Maine that have been allowed to reopen on a limited basis.
Gov. Janet Mills angered business owners in those counties in late May when she delayed the scheduled reopening of dine-in service due to surges in coronavirus cases. But the Democratic governor said Monday that the rates of new cases and hospitalizations stabilized in the three counties, which made it possible for more businesses to resume activities.
Bars and breweries in the three counties will also be able to resume outdoor service on Wednesday, while tattoo parlors, gyms and nail salons will be allowed to reopen with certain public health precautions. The governor’s order Monday also increases capacity limits for retail establishments statewide, allowing them to allow five customers at a time per 1,000 square feet.
Restaurants were originally supposed to resume indoor dine-in services in York, Androscoggin and Cumberland counties June 1, but Mills delayed the reopening just a few days prior due to an increase in the number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in those areas.
That frustrated some restaurants that had purchased food. The Mills administration said that prisons would buy unused food, but no restaurants took the state up on that offer. The governor also faces a lawsuit from restaurant owners near county lines who said restrictions were unfair.
Steve Smith, an Augusta attorney representing the plaintiffs, said Monday that his clients were “happy and anxious to get their employees back to work” but it was too early to say whether the lawsuits would be dropped.
Monday’s announcement allows the three counties to join 13 Maine counties that had already resumed indoor dining and outdoor bar service, making the status of reopening the same across the state. The resumption of indoor dining in the three counties, as well as the broader increase in capacity limits, was premised on “strict compliance” with the public health checklists released by her administration, Mills said.
Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, pointed to recent data about the use of face coverings as an example of one of the public health precautions that he said could play an “outsized role” in preventing transmission of the virus.
Mills noted that a change in the trajectory of cases could lead the state to slow or reverse some reopening measures. Nearly two dozen states are seeing an increase in their average daily number of cases as they reopen, the Washington Post reported. Maine is not among that group.
The governor said she remained concerned about large gatherings — crowds of more than 50 people are currently banned — and smaller groups where individuals were not wearing masks.
“We’re not letting our guard down, not one bit,” Mills said.
The Portland restaurant Eaux is “still getting their bearings” after opening for outdoor dining last Thursday, chef-owner Evan Richardson said on Monday. The Cajun-inspired restaurant maxed out patio capacity over the weekend, though business was still “significantly less” than normal.
Richardson removed 10 bar seats from Eaux’s 40-seat-dining room to meet safety guidelines, and said he’ll continue to follow the state’s direction. After Monday’s announcement, he’s not quite sure when he’s ready to reopen the 40-seat restaurant, but he said he is up for it if staff and managers are comfortable.
“We’re maintaining malleability and adapting everyday,” Richardson said.
BDN writers Nick Schroeder and Judy Harrison contributed to this report.
Watch: Janet Mills announces changes to June 1 reopening phase