Gov. Janet Mills is considering tightening some of the state’s indoor gathering limits and out-of-state travel requirements as coronavirus cases spike to record levels in Maine.
Mills spokesperson Lindsay Crete said the Democratic governor will likely make an announcement about the potential changes this weekend.
“Like most Maine families, Governor Mills is very apprehensive about the spread of this deadly virus as we face colder weather and holidays that generally encourage gatherings of all sorts,” Crete said. “Unfortunately, if we do not each take aggressive actions, this virus will be the uninvited guest to our family dinners and social gatherings.”
The news comes as the state grapples with a surge in COVID-19 cases. Maine marked record numbers of new daily cases for the last three days, with Friday’s number — 119 — being the first to hit triple digits. The virus is also spreading all over the state, with a growing portion of cases now tied to small informal gatherings rather than to large institutional outbreaks.
The state had loosened the seating limits on restaurants, churches and movie theaters on Oct. 13 and was set to allow a limited reopening of bars and tasting rooms starting Monday. It also recently moved Massachusetts onto a list of northeastern states whose residents are able to travel to Maine without quarantining for two weeks or showing proof of a negative test.
The virus can easily spread when people gather without masks indoors, whether to eat, drink, worship or socialize. Cases have been climbing across the whole country, including in all of the northeastern states now exempt from Maine’s travel limits — Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire.
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On Thursday, Boston University epidemiologist Dr. Robert Horsburgh Jr. told the BDN that Maine should cancel its anticipated reopening of bars and reimpose some indoor gathering restrictions after the new spike in cases, which followed a lifting of seating capacity in restaurants, churches and movie theaters less than three weeks ago.
“You can loosen restrictions, and if cases go up, you should back off,” Horsburgh said previously. “You should tighten back down again, and hopefully that will be enough, but maybe you need to clamp down more severely to keep people from circulating.”
Maine has also tightened its mask-wearing mandate in recent weeks, but Horsburgh said that would not be effective.
It’s “certainly NOT the time to open bars. By definition, it is not possible to go to bars and restaurants and wear a mask while you are there, so this works against the stricter advisory on wearing masks,” he said.
The state’s craft brewers are eager to get back to business, said Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild. The organization is still encouraging members to also have their curbside and delivery programs in place. Even as cold weather sets in, many breweries are opting to continue outdoor service for customers more comfortable with that option.
Jamie Blood, owner of Corner Point Brewing in Berwick, has worried about the governor rolling back bar and taproom reopenings, but he is eager to open service indoors, where he can seat 20. He has been trying to compete with restaurants and taprooms just over the border in New Hampshire, which reopened those businesses earlier than Maine did.
Blood plans to keep open his outdoor tent using some heaters, but he said business has already declined on cold and rainy days.
“I mean, safety obviously comes first,” he said. “But I hope that we get our chance. We can operate just as safely as a restaurant.”
Some breweries will not move inside quickly even if the state restrictions lift. Galen Mott, co-owner of Tributary Brewing in Kittery, said her taps will remain outside now. The brewery has an outdoor tent and a deck that together seat 50 people. She hopes she can keep both going through November, after which she will consider opening inside.
“The servers aren’t comfortable with customers inside,” Mott said.
Mills did not give any indication she was planning to reverse the state’s economic reopening after repeated questions about it during a news conference earlier this week, urging Mainers to hunker down and do “what common sense dictates.”
“It’s not about my telling people when they can or can’t shop or open a business or go to school,” Mills said Wednesday. “It’s about everybody using common sense and getting this thing under control.”
Mainers have generally supported the state’s coronavirus restrictions, and experts have credited their slow rollout with helping to keep new infection rates among the lowest in the nation. But the state’s hospitality industry has said they are overly burdensome.