© 2022 Maine Public
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

'Lockdown,' 'Shelter In Place,' 'Essential' Business — A Glossary For Mainers In The Coronavirus Era

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
A woman tries the door at a shop in the Freeport Village Station shopping center, Tuesday, March 17, in Freeport. Most of the retail stores in town including the L.L. Bean flagship store were closed out of concern of spreading the coronavirus.

As COVID-19 has continued to spread in Maine, particularly in the southern parts of the state, state and local officials have had to take varying action to keep people from interacting and potentially sharing the new coronavirus. On Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills preempted all that with her "Stay Healthy At Home" mandate, although municipalities may enact stricter standards.

Along with “social distancing,” some scarier terms are going around as governments and organizations respond to the coronavirus — terms such as “lockdown,” “shelter in place,” “safe at home” and Mills' own “stay healthy at home.”

Defining the terms

Lockdown: This is used mostly in reference to some other countries where COVID-19 has hit very hard. It generally means that the government is taking a firmer stance on what people are and are not allowed to do. In some cases, it also means taking action against people who are in violation of rules. This is happening, for example, in the U.K., Italy and Spain. It is not happening in the U.S., where people in many places are being advised to stay at home but are not required to show paperwork, or being fined or charged for noncompliance. More information about lockdowns can be found in this useful guide.

“Shelter in place” or “stay at home”: These basically mean the same thing, but many people feel “shelter in place” is too fear-inducing because it recalls a school shooting or other crisis situation. Generally, they mean local authorities are asking people to stay at home — except for outdoor exercise, which is being widely encouraged at the moment — and to leave only for essential errands such as getting groceries or prescriptions. The orders are also generally calling for nonessential businesses to be closed, and for people to work remotely. And this all is consistent with Mills' “stay healthy at home” order. 

Social distancing: Mainers should be pretty familiar with at least the broad strokes of social distancing by now — keeping a safe amount of distance person to person, and limiting the size of social gatherings — but in case you need them, here are refreshers on exactly what social distancing means and its efficacy.

What about Maine?

On March 31, Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order that sharply restricts business activity and travel in the state until at least the end of April.

All cities and towns in Maine are required to follow the state rules, but are permitted to enact even stricter standards. Before Mills' order, several municipalities had done so — here are the previous orders for Bangor, Brunswick, Portland and South Portland.

What's an 'essential' business?

Essential businesses are asked to have employees work remotely as much as possible, and to practice social distancing as much as possible. If your business isn’t listed as “essential,” there’s a form to request classification. But what constitutes an “essential business” is actually quite broad.

There’s a federal definition, and all state definitions would serve either to expand or clarify this. These businesses can be open, but they don’t necessarily have to be, and they can restrict their services to keep employees and the public safe.

This is in no way an exhaustive list, but some broad categories include:

  • Police and other first responders,
  • Medical facilities and the producers of medical products, including medical marijuana in Maine,
  • Banks and financial services,
  • Agriculture, forest product workers and paper manufacturing employees,
  • Groups that provide services to the homeless and other vulnerable groups, such as food pantries and funeral homes,
  • Takeout food, which makes sense when you think about the fact that essential employees have to eat and may be working long hours,
  • Companies that deliver energy, public works and communications, including members of the media as well as workers in communications infrastructure,
  • Information technology staff for any essential area,
  • Other critical groups including weather forecasters, manufacturers of products needed for essential functions, people who deal with hazardous materials, chemical manufacturing and supply chain workers and the defense industry.

Who are 'essential' workers?

Gov. Mills’ order specifically mentions workers in many industries.

This is again in no way an exhaustive list, but these industries include:

  • Agriculture, fishing, aquaculture and food processing
  • Industrial manufacturing, construction and maintenance of essential infrastructure,
  • Trash collection and transfer stations,
  • Grocery and household goods,
  • Forest products;
  • Essential home repair, hardware and auto repair,
  • Pharmacies and other medical, psychiatric and long-term care facilities, group homes, residential treatment facilities and other medical and psychiatric providers,
  • Post offices and shipping outlets,
  • Banks and credit unions,
  • Gas stations and laundromats,
  • Veterinary clinics, animal welfare and animal feed and supply stores,
  • Trucking and delivery,
  • Public transit,
  • Permitting and insurance,
  • Hotel and commercial lodging,
  • Utilities.
Nora is originally from the Boston area but has lived in Chicago, Michigan, New York City and at the northern tip of New York state. Nora began working in public radio at Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor and has been an on-air host, a reporter, a digital editor, a producer, and, when they let her, played records.