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Mills Announces Grant Program To Help Small Businesses Survive, As COVID-19 Pandemic Drags On

Nick Woodward
Maine Public
Gov. Janet Mills at a Maine CDC briefing on the coronavirus on March 27, 2020, in Augusta.

The Maine Center for Disease Control Thursday is reporting another death associated with COVID-19, and 19 additional cases of the disease. Meanwhile, Gov. Janet Mills is taking steps aimed at helping small businesses and nonprofits survive the pandemic.

At a media briefing Thursday, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said the person who died was a woman in her 80s from York County, bringing the total number of deaths since the pandemic reached Maine to 128, while the total case count has risen to 4,253.

A total of 3,679 have recovered from the illness, an increase of 17. The number of active cases in the state now stands at 446.

Meanwhile, Shah said the CDC learned Thursday morning about an outbreak associated with York County's jail and sheriff's office. He said four cases have turned up among employees, and the CDC is now working with county officials on arranging testing for all staff and inmates. 

"Our epidemiology team is beginning its outbreak investigation in trying to determine where COVID 19 may have been introduced and to whom else in the facility it may have bene transmitted to."

And Shah said there are now 32 cases associated — 26 confirmed and six probable — with a wedding reception at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket. He said there were 65 guests at the reception, and at the wedding, held at the Tri-Town Baptist Church in East Millinocket. Maine has set a limit on indoor gatherings of 50 people, and a limit of 100 on outdoor events.

As the pandemic drags on, Mills, who joined Shah at the briefing, announced that the state is launching a $200 million program aimed at helping Maine's small businesses and nonprofits weather it.

"Their cooperation protecting the Maine people has been outstanding, and often they have to sacrifice a lot of market share while doing these things to protect their customers."

Mills said money for the Maine Economic Recovery Grant Program will come from federal CARES Act funds provided for coronavirus relief.

“We know a lot more support is needed, and we hope Congress will step up to the plate," Mills said. "Those small businesses are truly the backbone of our economy. We can't let them fail."

Mills said she has been getting a lot of letters "of heartbreak and hope" from small-business owners struggling with supply chain glitches, and unprecedented challenges due to the shutdown of the Canadian border, the cruise ship industry and other disruptions.

"So many small business have risen to the task and I'm very appreciative of what they have done," Mills said. "Maine people don't cave during hard times." 

While the federal grant money isn’t likely to replace businesses’ lost profits, Mills said, it will help keep them viable and stabilize Maine’s economy.

Eligible businesses and nonprofits can begin applying for the grants beginning Friday, Aug. 21, and continuing through Sept. 9. Awards will be made in early October, Mills said. More information is available on the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development website.

Patty Wight contributed to this report.

Originally published 10:37 a.m. August 20, 2020.

Barbara grew up in Biddeford, Maine. She earned a master’s in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a bachelor’s in English from the University of Southern Maine.