AUGUSTA, Maine — As coronavirus cases in Maine continued to rise on Wednesday, Governor Janet Mills announced new, more aggressive steps to limit contact between people in public.
Mills announced she is issuing an executive order to close all restaurants and bars in the state until March 31, a step she said is necessary, despite the economic harm it will cause. The order concerns dine-in customers, so restaurants can still offer takeout. Mills and the Maine CDC said the key to limiting the spread of COVID-19 virus is to enforce social distancing—in other words, minimize contact between people that could spread the disease. To further that effort, the governor is also prohibiting public gatherings of more than ten people, affecting everything from concerts and church services to rallies and sporting events. In addition, Mills made a request for other businesses to also shut down.
“While not mandating, I would strongly urge non-essential public facing businesses such as gyms, hair salons theaters casinos shopping malls to close for the next two weeks to minimize public gatherings and spread of virus,” Mills said.
The governor said essential businesses need to remain open, including, among others, food processing, industrial manufacturing companies, construction companies, trash businesses, grocery stores, hardware stores, convenience stores and gas stations, as well as pharmacies, health care facilities, post offices and hotels.
The new order clearly presents a challenge to Maine’s restaurant industry, although a number of restaurants had already made the decision to close on their own. Portland and Bangor had both imposed their own restrictions on restaurants and bars this week and now similar restrictions will be imposed statewide.
A longtime restaurant industry leader tells NEWS CENTER Maine that overall, restaurants and bars employ as many as 50,000 people. Its likely many of those workers will be seeking to take advantage of a new law, signed today by the governor, to make unemployment insurance more available to people whose jobs have been hurt by the coronavirus.