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Decision to delay full restaurant openings linked to county coronavirus, COVID-19 cases

Phase 2 will go a little different than planned for restaurants amid the coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Restaurant owners and workers in Southern Maine have been gearing up to reopen Monday, as “phase 2” of the state’s reopening plan takes effect June 1. 

Some of those plans were put back on the shelf Wednesday, as Gov. Janet Mills announced another delay. 

Mills has decided restaurants in York, Cumberland, and Androscoggin counties should not open to inside dining yet, because the virus is still active, and apparently still spreading, in those three counties. 

Mills announced the restaurants can open for outside dining, and urged towns and cities to help provide space on sidewalks and streets for that purpose, and Rockland and Portland have already done.

"We believe this change is better for the health of Maine people and that it balances the economic need of these businesses with the health of Maine people,” Mills told the daily CDC briefing. 

The latest numbers from the CDC show Maine currently has 699 active cases of COVID-19 and 89.5 percent of them are in the three counties Mills included in her order, which are also three of the four counties with community transmission of the virus, and include many of the large outbreak locations.

As of Wednesday, Androscoggin County had 136 active cases, Cumberland County had 382 active cases and York County had 98 such cases.

The other active cases are divided among nine of Maine’s other counties. Four counties -- Aroostook, Hancock, Washington and Piscatiquiis—now have no active cases.

Even Penobscot County, the fourth country with community transmission, now is down to just 12 cases. As a result, Mills said restaurants in Penobscot County can open June 1 as scheduled.

Restaurants in the 12 more rural counties were allowed to open May 18. 

Despite the seemingly encouraging numbers in most of Maine, Dr. Nirav Shah says it does not necessarily mean the virus is on its way out in those parts of the state. 

“Unfortunately the scientific answer is we don’t know for sure," Shah said. “It came on so quickly, it can just as quickly recur in those rural counties. What we have seen in other parts of the country, we have seen rural parts of other states has been unfortunately a recurrence so we remain on guard on a daily basis looking for spikes even in the rural counties."

Gov. Mills said hotels and other lodgings will still be allowed to open June 1, as scheduled, but only for Maine residents and those from out of state who have self-quarantined for 14 days.

The limit to gatherings of no more than 10 people will also be relaxed, as planned, with the limit June 1 being 50 people.

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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