ELLSWORTH — Some restaurants and retail stores in Hancock County will be allowed to open several weeks earlier than expected, starting this Monday, said Governor Janet Mills at a press briefing on Friday.
With precautions such as physical distancing and enhanced cleaning, retail stores will be able to open on Monday, May 11, in counties where community transmission of coronavirus has not been found, including Aroostook, Piscataquis, Washington, Somerset, Franklin, Oxford, Kennebec, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc.
Restaurants in those counties will be allowed to open for outdoor dining and limited dine-in services on Monday, May 18, said Mills, who noted that it was “appropriate to tailor our approach” to reopening in more rural areas.
Fitness and exercise centers, which were initially categorized in the second phase of reopening, will now be permitted to resume some business on May 11, although only with outdoor classes of fewer than 10 people and one-on-one training.
Mills also announced that remote campsites as well as sporting camps, which provide access to wilderness activities such as canoeing, hiking, hunting or fishing, are permitted to open with public health safeguards in these same counties only on Monday, May 18, to Maine residents or those who have completed the 14-day quarantine.
The news comes on the heels of an announcement Thursday that the state would partner with Maine-based IDEXX Laboratories Inc. for a “major expansion of testing.”
“The IDEXX agreement adds an important testing safeguard,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Coupled with increased contact tracing, it provides Maine CDC with essential resources needed to continue the process of protecting public health.”
The Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) released guidelines for businesses that do plan on reopening, which Mills said is optional. Adjusted for population size, Maine ranks sixth lowest in the nation for positive cases.
In both restaurants and retail locations, employees must wear face coverings and customers should be wearing them, according to the guidelines. In restaurants, customers should wear cloth face coverings “where social distancing is difficult,” according to the guidelines (e.g., waiting in line for pickup, entering or exiting, walking to the restrooms). “Customers do not need to wear face coverings when seated at the table.”
In restaurants, servers “should be assigned to specific areas for their entire shift,” said Mills, and businesses should switch to laminated menus, use single-serve condiments and minimize the use of kiosks, tablets, pens, receipts and keys. Restaurants also should use reservations as much as possible and use a call or text alert system to alert guests their table is ready, perhaps while they’re waiting in their car.
“This isn’t going to be easy,” said Mills, “but the industry has also weighed in and we’ve respected their views.”
As for the enforcement aspect, Mills said on Friday, “We don’t live in a police state, but we live in a state that is under strict guidelines … Even though our numbers are low compared to many other states, we want to keep them low.”
Businesses could be subject to fines or licensing violations if they violate the guidelines, said Mills, and anyone who observes a business violating them should call state regulators.
But Mills added on Friday that “the biggest consequence for violating the order violating the guidelines is that a customer, a staff person or even the businessperson themselves might fall sick and might die.”
Heather Johnson, commissioner of the DECD, said on Friday that she expects businesses to voluntarily comply.
“They are the core and the heart of these communities. They feel it is absolutely their prerogative to protect their customers and employees as well.”