Gov. Janet Mills said Tuesday that she has issued an executive order to move into a fourth stage of restarting Maine’s economy beginning next Tuesday, Oct. 13, expanded a face-covering mandate statewide and set a Nov. 2 reopening date for bars and tasting rooms.
Stage 4 increases limits on indoor seating in restaurants, churches and movie theaters to 50 percent capacity of permitted occupancy or 100 people, whichever is less, while maintaining many coronavirus-related health measures. The decision was made as cold weather sets in.
The expanded face-covering mandate requires more entities and their employees, including private schools and municipal buildings, to enforce that health measure. The governor also expanded the scope of enforcement statewide rather than in just Maine’s coastal counties and more populous cities.
“With winter weather approaching, we must support businesses across the state as outdoor service becomes less viable and people move inside,” Mills said in a statement. “This expanded capacity, along with continued health and safety precautions, is a prudent step forward that balances public health and economic health.”
As virus cases continue to rise around the country, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said he will closely watch the broader openings. Maine has had the second-lowest case rate among states behind Vermont over the course of the pandemic. Shah said the Maine CDC monitors the daily number of new cases, their geographic distribution, hospitalizations and the share of positive tests.
“If we start to see slippage in any of those, that will be something that prompts our team, from a public health perspective, to take a look at,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
New checklists for the indoor reopenings, including bars and tasting rooms, will be posted on the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development website over the next few days, Mills said. Those will include no live singing and bars musicians from playing woodwind instruments. Open dance floors or people standing and congregating also will not be allowed.
Noting face coverings have been proven to significantly reduce the spread of the virus, Mills said businesses that violate the order will be subject to possible fines or loss of state licenses. She said state officials have already issued fines, in one instance nearly $20,000, and more than two dozen imminent health hazard warnings.
The gathering limit remains at 50 people for non-seated indoor activities like physical fitness in gyms and 100 people for outdoor activities. Retailers still have an occupancy limit of five people per 1,000 square feet of shopping space.
Mills said her administration got feedback about the reopening plan from the Portland, Bangor and Lewiston-Auburn chambers of commerce and several tourism organizations.