Inventing a ‘new normal’: Mills issues roadmap for restarting Maine economy

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Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday announced her administration’s plans to gradually restart the state’s economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mills extended a statewide stay-at-home order through May 31. But she also said the first phase of a four-stage plan to reopen the state will begin this Friday, May 1.

The new “Stay Safer-at-Home” order will allow Mainers to visit businesses or participate in activities that are deemed safe to open under Stage 1 of the reopening plan, as long as added safety precautions are followed.

“While this plan presents a path forward for gradually and safely restarting our economy, it should not lure Maine people into thinking that this pandemic is almost over or that things will be back to normal soon,” Mills said in an Augusta briefing. “The hard truth is that they are not; that they likely will not be for a long time; and that, with this plan, we are inventing a new normal – a different way of doing business, shopping, traveling, and enjoying the Maine outdoors in ways that keep us all safe.” 

Mills had said on Monday that businesses that can operate safely by minimizing person-to-person interaction would be the first allowed to reopen.

“We are not out of the woods yet and likely will not be for some time,” she said Tuesday.

Mills said this gradual reopening is not focused on essential or nonessential businesses, but on whether a business can show it can reopen in a limited way while also protecting public health.

Mills said the stages of her plan will progress month by month.

The first stage would open some businesses like barbershops and hair salons, pet groomers, limited drive-in services, and others.

Stage 2, tentatively slated for June 1, would increase the limit on public gatherings from 10 people to 50 people, and let some workers begin to return to their offices. It would also allow some restaurants to begin offering limited services, gyms to begin reopening, and allow some state parks to reopen.

The third stage, set for July 1, would let some lodging businesses reopen, along with bars, outdoor recreation, and other services.

The fourth stage doesn’t have a set date but would lift restrictions and allow normal business activities to resume. She also said she would like students to be able to return to school in the fall.

“We’re not flipping a switch today from closed to open,” Mills said.

The stay-at-home order was slated to expire on Thursday. The total number of cases of the novel coronavirus has risen to 1,040 in the state, an increase of 17 from Monday, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

According to the most recent numbers, the death toll has increased by one person since Sunday, to a total of 51. All told, 585 individuals have recovered. There have been 163 hospitalizations, and 33 people are still hospitalized. Of those, 17 are in critical care, and seven are on ventilators.

According to Maine CDC data, there are a total of 330 critical-care beds in the state, 158 of which are available. There are 298 available ventilators out of a total of 314. And there are 397 available alternative ventilators.

According to Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, congregate care facilities still remain an area of concern for outbreaks. He said 229 residents and staff members at several congregate-care facilities around the state had tested positive.

A total of 245 health-care workers have also tested positive around the state.

Shah said the CDC is tracking three metrics to determine progress through Mills’ stages: the first is a downward trajectory of flu-like and COVID-19 cases; a downward trajectory in documented cases and newly hospitalized patients, and the capacity of Maine’s hospital systems to treat all patients without crisis care and the ability of the state to engage in a robust testing program.