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Maine Businesses React To Mills' Guidelines To Reopening The State

Willis Ryder Arnold
Maine Public File

Maine's restaurant and hotel owners anxiously watched Gov. Janet Mills press conference Thursday, hoping for an indicator of when and how she will start reopening the state's pandemic-plagued economy.

Steve Hewins of the industry group HospitalityMaine says that while Mills did not set a date, she did set specific public health benchmarks that would need to be met and even said she would like to see tourists back in July or August.

"You know the industry in Maine... Memorial Day really starts to kick things in,” Hewkins says. “I think July 4 though is when we are fully operational and 100 percent capacity. If we can get there, that would be awesome. But it is going to be really a difficult path to travel."

Hewins says he is working with the administration to devise a standardized plan for lodging and restaurants to safely phase in operations and build up capacity. He says many are willing to try that approach, although some are likely to stay shuttered until they can open at 100 percent capacity.

Mills says she wants a collaborative effort with the business community to design specific protocols for reopening the state's economy, while preserving public safety during the pandemic. Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, says the invitation will be taken up by businesses that have been anxiously awaiting a positive signal.

"We're still going to have those social distancing needs, we're still going to have hygiene, we're still going to have to do a lot of things in different ways,” says Connors. “But looking at us individually, if you will, compared to 'nothing can open until the entire state is open'... I think today that door was opened."

Connors acknowledges that any economic return will not be phased in until public health officials say certain benchmarks for controlling the virus have been met. And he says the effort will need to be responsive to safety challenges that could arise, for instance, if a particular geographic area is reopened and sees an unmanageable surge of tourists come in.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.