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Mills Reimposes Indoor Gathering Limits, Travel Restrictions As COVID-19 Cases Surge In Maine

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
Will Surks, of Westfield, N.J., a freshman at Bowdoin College, has his temperature checked as a safety measure to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus at the Town Mall, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Brunswick, Maine.

Gov. Janet Mills announced new measures Sunday aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus in Maine. The state has seen record daily new cases of COVID-19 in recent days, and the 7-day positivity rate has doubled to 0.92 percent.

Bars and tasting rooms were due to reopen for indoor service starting Monday, but that’s now postponed. In a news release, the mills administration says that the unique environment of bars, where people gather with those outside of their household and talk loudly without face masks, elevates the risk of transmission of the virus.

“We realize that this decision will cause hardship,” Mills says in the release. “We do not take this action lightly, but the rapid rise in cases in just the past six days means that we cannot in good conscience proceed with the planned reopening.”

Indoor gathering limits will return to a maximum of 50 people regardless of capacity, beginning Wednesday. That limit had been relaxed in mid-October. Occupancy at retail businesses will stay the same, with 5 people allowed per 1,000 square feet of shopping space. The 100-person limit on outdoor gatherings also remains the same.

The administration has also removed three states from the list of those exempt from quarantine and testing requirements. Starting Wednesday, travelers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut either have to quarantine for 14 days or receive a negative test with a sample taken less than 72 hours before arriving in Maine. That only leaves visitors from New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts exempt from the requirements, but state officials say they’re closely monitoring metrics in those states.

Mills says she’s extremely concerned about the spread of this virus as we head into colder winter months and the holiday season “when we customarily gather with friends and family.” The coronavirus, she says, can be the uninvited guest at dinner parties and traditional gatherings. “Each one of us must assume personal responsibility for our actions and do everything we can to get this virus under control.”

Daily new cases of COVID-19 in Maine have been surging in recent days and hit an all time high on Friday, with 103 cases. Maine’s Director of the CDC, Nirav Shah, says the state is experiencing widespread community transmission. Most cases are being spread through small household gatherings, and Shah has been urging Mainers to limit the duration of indoor gatherings, wear face masks and keep at least six feet apart.

In addition to the restrictions announced Sunday, the Mills administration is also extending financial support through December for municipalities that are a part of the Keep Maine Healthy grant program. The more than 130 municipalities and two tribal governments that participate use the funding to implement local prevention and education plans. Those plans have included the purchase of personal protective equipment, erecting signs about safety protocols and hiring health officers to educate businesses on best practices.

Mills is imploring Mainers to adhere to safety precautions in order to keep schools open, the economy rolling, and people safe.

“If we do not control this outbreak, we may never get this evil genie back in the bottle,” says Mills.

The measures announced by Mills Sunday come not only as the state sees a surge in COVID-19 cases, but as the nation as a whole has surpassed more than 9 million cases and more than 230,000 deaths.

Maine CDC added 47 cases of COVID-19 to the state’s total on Sunday. That’s the smallest jump the state has seen in a week, but officials clarified that due to a data system error, the number did not include a full day’s worth of cases.

In total, 6,715 cases of the disease have been reported in Maine. Of those, 5,554 Mainers have recovered, leaving 1,014 active cases.

No new deaths were added Sunday. That number stands at 147.

Updated 2:22 p.m. with Mills’ new restrictions.

Digital editor Andrew Catalina contributed to this report.