After the largest single-day spike of new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, Gov. Janet Mills expressed concern over the rising number and encouraged Mainers to take precautions, but stopped short of rolling back her previous business reopenings in an effort to curb the spread.
The Democratic governor said she isn’t prepared to change the travel restrictions now, even though New York has put Massachusetts, where rates have shot up dramatically, on a list of states with visiting restrictions.
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“We’re still not doing enough to stay safe,” Mills said at a news conference. “This is not about shutting down, but about hunkering down.”
Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that while the numbers remain low compared to other states, they are significant. The state reported 87 new cases on Wednesday, ranging in age from eight months to 94 years old. A week ago, seven people were in the hospital but now that number has doubled.
“In May, the increase in cases was being driven by focal outbreaks in congregate care settings, nursing homes, shelters and for people experiencing homelessness,” he said. “Today, the numbers and the increases in cases that we are seeing are being driven by the fact that the virus is everywhere among us.”
Maine businesses, which have been reeling under curtailed operations and the federal government’s inability to agree on a new stimulus package, have been waiting for the next shoe to drop, including possible cutbacks in business, industry experts said.
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“I cannot imagine anyone not concerned about this in an industry where everyone is already on shoestrings,” said Steve Hewins, president and CEO of HospitalityMaine, an industry group whose hotel and restaurant members have been particularly hard hit by pandemic restrictions, “and members are always concerned about the health and safety of employees and guests because they know the results of failure.”
He expects to see more federal funds after the election. Meantime, small businesses in Maine have a Thursday deadline to apply for a second round of funds from the state’s business recovery program.
Mills’ comments came just before a scheduled Nov. 2 opening of indoor bars and tasting rooms that she announced as part of the state’s fourth stage of economic reopenings in early October. She said she wants to keep all businesses operating while continuing health precautions.
Stage 4 also expanded face covering mandates and increased 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.
Since then, virus cases have increased. On Tuesday, an outbreak of four cases of COVID-19 was identified at Second Baptist Church in Calais, according to state health officials. Shah said that number has increased to 27 in just one day. More than 60 positive coronavirus cases at several Waldo County schools and a Searsport assisted-living facility are connected to the outbreak that began at the Brooks Pentecostal Church, the Maine CDC said last week.
Areas outside of the state’s population centers also are seeing the virus spread through community transmission. Cases in Washington County, with a population of 31,000, have more than doubled in the past week, to 48 on Monday from 21 a week earlier. What’s more, disease investigators haven’t traced the surge in cases to a single large outbreak or two, meaning the virus is spreading in local communities and households, and it’s much more difficult to stem the spread, according to Shah.
The stock market reacted sharply to the uptick in virus cases nationwide, with the Dow 30 stocks down 789 points, the Nasdaq down 327 points and the S&P 500 down 95 points as of 2 p.m.