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Health

Mills Outlines Plans For Gradual Reopening Of Maine Businesses

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Maine Public
Mills speaks at a press briefing on April 23, 2020.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills outlined the guideposts her administration will use in attempting to reopen the state economy. But her announcement came amid five new reported deaths from the novel coronavirus, the largest single-day total for Maine so far.

Mills' remarks during Thursday's daily briefing attempted to strike a balance between hope and reality. On one hand, she sought to reassure Mainers that her administration is crafting a plan to lift restrictions on business operations and social gatherings — a welcome prospect for a state that's been under a stay-at-home order for nearly a month.

But on the other, Mills noted that the virus remains a lethal threat.

"Today we heard the sobering statistics from Dr. Shah. Thirty new cases, 5 deaths, more than in any previous day, bringing the total number of lives lost to 44," Mills said.

The spike in cases and fatalities is the latest evidence that COVID-19 continues to ravage Maine and other states.

And, like other states, the virus is especially deadly at long-term care facilities and nursing homes. All five of the deaths reported Thursday were residents at the Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough, where 48 cases have been recorded and 10 people have died.

Those grim statistics were the backdrop for Mills' promise to pursue a phased reopening of the economy that's tethered to a scientific assessment of the COVID-19 threat. She says Maine's approach will be cautious and measured. Mills did not outline a specific timeline for reopening the state.

"The approach we take is defined by flexibility, practicality, listening and continued communication," she says. "It's not measured by hard lines, or fixed timetables or dubious deadlines."

Instead, the governor says her administration will monitor trends in COVID-19 cases, hospitalization rates and the capacity of the state's healthcare system.  

Mills says the state is also trying to increase testing and tracing to help curtail future outbreaks. White House criteria recommends that state’s wait to reopen businesses until there has been a downward trend of cases for two weeks.

And she invited Maine citizens and business leaders to offer ideas on ways to safely open certain parts of the economy through a new portal at the Department of Economic and Community Development.

"We invite Maine people to take part in the discussion," Mills said. :Give us your ideas on how we can do things differently, within the principles outlined above."

In the meantime, Mills says she and other New England governors are continuing talks with a focus on ways to limit travel between states.

The Stay Healthy at Home order that the governor issued March 31 is set to expire Thursday, April 30, at the earliest. Mills says officials will reevaluate the order then and decide whether to extend it.

Patty Wight and Caitlin Troutman contributed to this report.