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Rural Maine counties will be able to begin reopening as soon as next week, Mills says

Gov. Janet Mills announced a revised plan to begin reopening Maine's rural counties, beginning May 11.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills announced some revisions to her phased plan to reopen the Maine economy on Friday at the Maine CDC coronavirus briefing. Mills said the State's new partnership with IDEXX and the expanded capacity for testing made it possible for her to reevaluate the plan she put forth in April. 

Rural counties will be able to begin reopening as soon as next week: Aroostook, Piscataquis, Washington, Hancock, Somerset, Frankin, Oxford, Kennebec, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, and Sagadahoc. Mills said these counties are able to begin the reopening process because there is no evidence of community transmission in these counties and because they have a low number of confirmed cases.

In these counties, starting Monday, May 11, retail stores may open to in-store customers. They still must adhere to CDC safety guidelines, including employees being required to wear face coverings, ensure social distancing requirements for both staff and customers, and limiting store traffic, among others. 

Read the complete safety checklist for retail businesses:

On Monday, May 18, restaurants may open for outdoor dining and for limited dine-in service, with strict health and safety precautions. 

Read the complete safety checklist for restaurants:

Mills said the new plan simply allows these businesses in rural counties to reopen, and it's not a requirement. If employees don't feel comfortable returning to work or if they are considered at-risk, they should not feel compelled to return to work. Mills urges employers to be flexible with their employees.

While the Governor’s strategy determines which types of businesses may reopen and when, it does not preclude a municipality from adopting additional public health measures related to reopenings, including applying additional restrictions on establishments within their jurisdiction.

Also on May 18 for the 12 rural counties, remote campsites and remote sporting camps that provide access to wilderness activities are permitted to reopen. 

Adjustments are being made statewide as well. Fitness and exercise centers, which were initially in the second stage of Mills' original plan, will now be permitted to reopen on May 11 for outdoor classes of ten or fewer people, or for one-on-one personal training indoors.

All those who are now allowed to reopen must adhere to CDC safety guidelines. 

For now, retail stores and restaurants in counties where community transmission has been identified (York, Cumberland, Penobscot, and Androscoggin), are not permitted to reopen for in-store shopping or dine-in service until June 1, the tentative start date for stage two of the plan. 

RELATED: Read Maine Governor Janet Mills' detailed plan to reopen Maine economy during coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic

"The community transmission in those counties continues to pose too big a risk to allow those businesses to operate," Mills said. "Although there are rural areas in some of those counties, those counties as a whole have seen too significant a spread."

Former Governor Paul LePage released the following statement in response to Mills' announcement:

Starting on April 23 I called for Governor Mills to begin reopening rural counties with the least illness. I have repeatedly noted we can do so safely while also working to protect Maine’s most vulnerable, especially those in nursing homes. Today, two weeks later, Governor Mills is finally taking some action.  I am glad to see this movement, I compliment it, but we must do more. It is critical we get Maine’s economy back up and safely running again. That includes an active, aggressive plan to carefully and safely reopen our critical tourism business which accounts for more than 100,000 jobs in our state. I have faith that the people of Maine can make good decisions in this pandemic. They can operate their businesses to protect their workers and customers. Our leaders should trust our people, not threaten them when they are simply trying to make a living to feed their family.

“Small businesses are the backbone of rural economies, and we are glad that expanded testing allows for additional rural businesses to more safely open while following guidelines that will help keep Mainers healthy,” Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development said. “Businesses have given us constructive suggestions on how they can improve the safety of their work, and we look forward to that continued engagement as we examine how to reopen the economy while protecting public health.”

Adjusted for population size, Maine as of yesterday ranked sixth lowest in the nation in terms of positive cases; 36th in the nation in terms of deaths; 27th in terms of patients ever-hospitalized out of the 32 states reporting; and 10th in the percentage of people who have recovered out of the 38 states reporting.

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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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