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Bar reopenings delayed across Maine amid COVID-19 spread concerns

Gov. Janet Mills said outdoor seating is permitted but 'indoor bar service presents a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission'

AUGUSTA, Maine — "To protect public health," Gov. Janet Mills says the reopening of bars for indoor service is delayed across Maine. Bars have been able to reopen for outdoor service and were tentatively scheduled to reopen for indoor service on July 1 as part of Stage 3 of the Restarting Maine's Economy Plan. 

The Mills administration says, however, that given the elevated health risk presented by bars, the timeline to allow indoor service is postponed "until further notice." 

Outdoor seated service will still be permitted, and the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations will work closely with businesses to establish or expand outdoor capacity. 

The State began to reevaluate the reopening of bars last week in light of reports of outbreaks across the U.S. and after newly discovered factors were found to contribute to the spread of COVID-19. 

RELATED: Maine reevaluates bar reopenings amid reports of outbreaks across the U.S.

“Recent outbreaks related to indoor bar service in multiple states raise concerns,” Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said in a statement. “As we learn more about how the virus spreads, duration and density – specifically being in close quarters inside, as is the case with most bars – clearly elevate the risk of virus transmission.”

Mills said the decision was "difficult but necessary" given the increased public health risk and the outbreaks across the country associated with indoor service. 

“While we believe this is the most prudent step to protect the health and safety of Maine people, we recognize that it will frustrate some businesses and patrons," Mills said in a statement. "The Administration will work with these businesses to help them open for outdoor service to the extent they may be able to do so. Meanwhile, we will continue to monitor the prevalence of this deadly virus and take whatever steps necessary to protect people as we continue the gradual reopening process.”

Dr. Shah previously explained that bars are often crowded, enclosed in tight spaces, and it's often hard to social distance. Newly discovered factors such as people often speaking loudly, and people being less likely to wear face coverings so they can drink appear to contribute to high degrees of transmission in bars. The Mills administration cited these factors in their reasoning as well. 

At this time this is the only update to Stage 3 of the reopening plan. 

Dr. Shah and Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services are discussing the announcement in Monday's coronavirus briefing. 

Watch live here: 

RELATED: WATCH LIVE 2PM: Maine CDC Coronavirus Update

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