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Mills announces 9 pm curfew for restaurants, other businesses as COVID-19 cases continue to surge

Beginning on Friday, Maine businesses will be required to close by 9 p.m. in order to limit extended gatherings. The order will be in effect through Dec. 6

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday announced a curfew for recreational businesses, including restaurants, that will take effect on Friday, Nov. 20, and be in effect through Sunday, Dec. 6.

Mills cited an "alarming increase" in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and positivity rates in Maine. 

The measure is similar to actions taken by other states, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New York, which require early business closures to minimize extended evening gatherings while preserving standard business operating hours.

“As we enter the colder months and a holiday season when we customarily gather with friends and family, we are also entering a new and dangerous phase of the pandemic,” Mills said in a statement. “Since the beginning of this pandemic, we have been performing a balancing act, basing our decisions on science and medical expertise, weighing the safety of reopening with the necessity of getting back to business. This targeted and temporary step will reduce extended gatherings while keeping the businesses open. Other steps may be necessary in the coming weeks if we do not get this virus under control. I ask all Maine people, please wear your face covering, wash your hands, watch your distance and avoid hosting or attending gatherings with friends and loved ones unless it is absolutely necessary. Returning to normal life sometime next year first requires us to survive the holidays this year.”

Businesses affected by the new order include all outdoor and indoor amusement venues, movie theaters, performing arts venues, casinos, and businesses that provide seated food and drink service, including social clubs, restaurants, and bars and tasting rooms currently open for outdoor service.

The Mills administration says the limit on hours "is designed to limit extended gatherings at a time when many students and family members are returning to Maine and at a time when social gatherings are more common, both of which will likely lead to more COVID-19 transmission."

"Obviously it's difficult for our industry," Ed Stebbins, owner of Gritty McDuff's in Portland said. "We're just keeping our fingers crossed we survive this."

“Every part of Maine is seeing community transmission,” Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said. “Each of us can help limit further spread of the virus by considering how our actions affect others. Extended gatherings provide an opportunity for the virus to infect others. At this time of year, those others are more likely to be loved ones. By adjusting or delaying our shared celebrations, we deny the virus that opportunity and demonstrate our respect and care for others.”

"I've been doing a conference call with all my managers to try and plot our strategy," Stebbins said. 

To ensure broad compliance with public health and safety measures that limit the spread of COVID-19, including wearing face coverings, avoiding gatherings, and maintaining physical distancing, the Mills Administration will also invest $100,000 in Coronavirus Relief Funds to extend its statewide Keep Maine Healthy public awareness campaign into January 2021 with social media, digital, television and streaming media advertising. DHHS launched the campaign in June to encourage Maine people to continue taking actions that are proven to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“The course that the COVID-19 pandemic takes in our state over the coming weeks and months is up to the people of Maine,” Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said. “We know what works to limit the spread of this virus: wearing face coverings, avoiding gatherings, keeping distance, and washing our hands. This campaign will remind us of actions we can take to keep our loved ones and communities safe and healthy.”

The Mills Administration is working with the Attorney General’s Office to provide clear guidance to businesses on current public health requirements and their right to enforce those requirements to protect the health of their customers and staff. That guidance is forthcoming and will be released publicly.