Yesterday, Governor Mills announced that she was extending the current stay-at-home order until April 31, and then starting May 1 the State will begin to loosen restrictions on the economy in stages. The first three stages are currently scheduled to advance on a monthly basis, while the fourth will begin at a time to be determined. During the first stage, the government will maintain a prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 people. Throughout the second and third stage, gatherings will be restricted to groups consisting of 50 or fewer people, meaning many businesses that rely on the summer tourist season will no doubt be hobbled and quite possibly irreparably damaged even after being allowed to reopen.
Stage 1 of the Governor's plan commences on May 1, 2020, upon which time the government will permit the return to semi-normal operations for health-care providers, “personal services” (barbers, pet groomers, and the like), drive-in religious services, drive-in movie theaters, outdoor recreation (guided hunting and fishing, golf, and disc golf), State Parks and historic sites, auto dealerships, and car washes. As previously stated, during this stage there will be a ban on gatherings of more than ten people. Additionally, News Center Maine reports that the new executive order will continue the 14-day quarantine order for people arriving from out-of-state and will newly require Mainers to wear cloth face coverings in public places where social distancing is difficult to maintain. This is in keeping with the advice of the federal CDC, but stands in light contrast of the assessment of the World Health Organization (WHO), which has explained that although masks may be useful when coming into direct contact with infected persons, “there is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.” Furthermore, WHO has warned that “the wide use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not supported by current evidence and carries uncertainties and critical risks.” Such risks include self-contamination, difficulty breathing, false sense of security, diversion of mask supplies and consequent shortage of masks for health care workers, and diversion of resources from effective health measures, such as hand hygiene. These rather significant risks are not being talked about by the State of Maine or any major media outlet (at least that this author has seen). Please consider these risks before you choose to buy masks, and please refrain from purchasing N95 masks, thereby depriving hospitals of such equipment. If you should choose to wear a mask of any kind, please be smart about it and read the CDC guidelines for proper mask care so you do not contaminate yourself or others due to improper implementation.
Stage 2 of the Governor's plan will roll out on June 1 and will allow for gatherings consisting of 50 or fewer people. This stage of the plan will also reportedly allow for “some degree” of opening for restaurants, fitness centers, retail stores, lodging and campgrounds, day camps for children, and coastal parks. Details on the definition of “some degree” have not as of yet been released.
Stage 3 will begin July 1 and continue at least through August 31 and possibly longer. Stage 3 will allow for the reopening of lodging (listed for a second time for some reason, presumably this industry will now have fewer restrictions); outdoor recreation such as charter boats and boat “excursions;” personal services such as spas, tattoo parlors, massage parlors, and others; and finally bars. During stage 3, the state will be maintaining the 50 or fewer person limit on public gatherings.
Stage 4 will begin at a time to be determined. Maybe in September, maybe the New Year, maybe in 5 years. Stage 4 will involve the complete lifting of restrictions and return to “normalcy.” The Governor's office has, however, not released any information on what criteria will be used to assess our readiness for stage 4.
Unfortunately, it takes only a modicum of imagination to realize what this plan will do to Maine's economy, and especially businesses that rely heavily on the tourist season. Despite the partial reopening of restaurants and lodging services in June, and the reopening of bars in July, theses establishments will be limited to 50 persons or fewer at a time. This number is likely to include the staff of any establishment (particularly in bars, where physical separation between staff and patrons is nigh impossible). Couple that with the 14-day quarantine period for people from away, and tourist season is effectively canceled. For folks in the service industry, now is the winter of your discontent. For those of you keeping score at home, it is unlikely that we will emerge from the year 2020 without working people in all walks of life feeling the effects of Maine taking a critical hit to one of its most important money-makers, an industry that in 2018 brought over $6 billion (yes, with a B) into the State and employs over 100,000 people (roughly 10% of our population).
“Open for Business” no more.