Maine’s 15-month COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency will end Wednesday at midnight, bringing Gov. Janet Mills’ long period of executive power to a close.
The most visible aspects of the U.S. pandemic response were made by executive orders from governors. Maine was no different. Mills, a Democrat, enshrined face-covering mandates, business closures and capacity limits, overhauled elections, and made dozens of other changes this way under powers vested in her by a Legislature that quickly adjourned last year.
Her orders were the subject of fierce debate as the pandemic wore on. Legislative Republicans tried to strip Mills of her power. Former President Donald Trump likened her to “a dictator” on a trip to the state. But Maine managed the pandemic relatively well, seeing among the lowest per-capita case counts and the highest vaccination rates among states.
The aforementioned high-profile restrictions have been lifted aside from a mask mandate in schools that will be optional after Wednesday. Some pandemic-inspired policies will end while others will live on through various state or federal actions. Mills plans to extend some deregulating orders as well. Here is how things will change — or not.
Lawmakers continue popular changes
Several practices instilled during the pandemic proved to be popular enough for lawmakers to want to enshire them in law. The Legislature permanently adopted provisions allowing absentee ballot drop boxes and giving election clerks more time to process those ballots.
A bill signed into law early in the session from Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, allows restaurants and bars to serve to-go cocktails through September 2022, aiming to provide stability to businesses as they recover from the pandemic.
Mills expanded the use of telehealth services early into the pandemic as people stopped going to in-person appointments. A bill from Sen. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, allowed those services to continue and set licensing standards.
The Legislature adopted a law governing how public meetings can be conducted electronically, although town meetings, school budget meetings and the Legislature are not included. It also extended an executive order allowing remote notarization through the end of the year.
Less-generous unemployment benefits
Relatively liberal state unemployment policies will be rolled back after July 30, according to the Maine Department of Labor. The main change is that people will not be able to claim unemployment if they need to quarantine, self-isolate or care for a dependent family member.
Maine will also reinstate the so-called “waiting week,” the period in which a person is not eligible for unemployment for the first week after they have filed and been approved for unemployment. A Mills executive order exempting federal stimulus payments from income when considering eligibility for federal benefits is expected to continue for another 30 days.
None of these changes will affect extended federal unemployment benefits provided for by Congress in March. They end on Sept. 4.
Expanded Medicaid coverage will remain
The state has seen some of its highest enrollment in MaineCare since the pandemic started, boosting its expanded Medicaid numbers to its highest numbers since Mills enacted the program at the beginning of her tenure.
An ongoing federal state of emergency means the state is not allowed to remove people who would otherwise be removed as their income or employment status changed, a process referred to as “churn.” That declaration is valid at least until July 19.
Less flexibility for health care licensing
During Maine’s emergency, certain health care employees were allowed to extend licenses without completing certain education requirements if they were set to expire. Others were allowed temporary licenses. Those provisions are set to expire 30 days after the emergency ends, meaning those with temporary licenses will have to go through the normal process.
Some expiring orders extended
But Mills is likely to act on Wednesday to extend some provisions to make the transition out of the emergency easier, something her office contends that state law allows. Those provisions include loosened restrictions on child care providers and law enforcement licensing. Health care workers from out of state who are in good standing or retired will also be granted more time to work, a measure meant to keep staffing levels consistent.
Other actions may be announced Wednesday when Mills speaks during a final COVID-19 briefing with Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.