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

Maine CDC Director said Wednesday the state is rethinking the July 1 reopen date for bars in light of newly discovered factors that lead to the spread of COVID-19.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Under Gov. Janet Mills' tentative reopening plan, bars across Maine would be able to reopen on July 1. The keyword: tentative. The plan has changed many times before—whether that be delays or accelerations—and it may change again. 

On Wednesday, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said the State is reevaluating that timeline in light of recent outbreaks from bar settings across the U.S.

"As always, we let the data, not the date, drive what we feel is best in order to protect public health and we will do so here in connection with bars," Dr. Shah said.

In the briefing, Dr. Shah mentioned COVID-19 outbreaks across the country, specifically one in Jacksonville, Fla., and the other in Boise, Idaho. 

In Jacksonville, sixteen customers and seven staff members appear to have been infected at a bar on a single night on June 6. No staff or patrons wore face coverings, Dr. Shah said. 

In a similar situation at a bar in Idaho, health officials are investigating a cluster of 34 cases in a series of bars in downtown Boise.

Dr. Shah says these bar-related outbreaks show just how opportunistic the coronavirus can be over the course of just a few hours. He said bars raise significant concerns over two main factors of transmission: duration and density of exposure. 

RELATED: Real-time Maine coronavirus, COVID-19 updates: State reevaluating reopening bars in light of newly discovered factors

Dr. Shah says bars are often crowded, enclosed in tight spaces, and it's often hard to social distance. 

Newly discovered factors such as people often speak loudly, and people being less likely to wear face coverings so they can drink appear to contribute to high degrees of transmission in bars.

These factors are prompting health officials not only in Maine but across the country, including Massachusetts and Vermont, to reevaluate the timeline for when bars can safely reopen. Currently, they are slated to reopen on July 1.

When asked about whether the State would consider a rural reopening approach like how it was done with restaurants, Dr. Shah said that's something that's being discussed. The dilemma with that approach, however, is that while the prevalence rates are lower in rural counties, bar settings "almost by definition are the opposite of physical distancing," Dr. Shah said.

Restaurants that fall into a hybrid category of being restaurants and bars are also under discussion but says those restaurants tend to not be as crowded as smaller bars where the focus is going to have a drink. 

Dr. Shah says the goal is to prevent Maine from becoming a state that has seen an increase in cases in recent weeks. 

The Governor's Office did not immediately respond to NEWS CENTER Maine's request for comment. 

RELATED: Maine is open for business, here's what you need to know

RELATED: Restaurants can resume dine-in service Wednesday, but some aren't ready to reopen

Watch the full Wednesday briefing here:

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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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