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Maine lawmakers plan civic center meeting amid coronavirus spike

The full Maine Legislature last met in March. The top priority for lawmakers will be crafting a new, two-year state budget.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers in Maine plan to hold their first legislative sessions at the Augusta Civic Center instead of the Statehouse as coronavirus cases grow.

The city-owned, 49,000-square-foot civic center, about three miles from the Statehouse, is typically used for events such as concerts, agriculture conventions and conferences. It would provide more space than the Statehouse, and that would make it easier to observe social distancing, a spokeswoman for outgoing Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon told the Portland Press Herald.

The full Maine Legislature last met in March. The top priority for lawmakers will be crafting a new, two-year state budget at a time when Maine finances have been stressed by the pandemic.

New Hampshire lawmakers took a similar approach in June when they met in the University of New Hampshire Whittemore Center Arena.

The Maine CDC has reported six additional deaths this week, bringing the state death toll to 158. Maine marked a single-day case record on Monday, with 204 new cases reported in a 24-hour period.

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Monday that as cases in Maine continue to increase, his biggest concern in "unchecked community transmission." He said the ground in Maine has been seeded with a lot of covid cases, and says he's concerned that there will now start to be outbreaks that pop up across the state because of that high level of seeding. 

"When you combine this community transmission, this seeding, what can happen is today's community transmission, can become tomorrow's outbreaks," Shah said. "So, my biggest fear is that today's community transition will soon start to become and snowball into tomorrow's outbreaks."

Shah said we're likely to see outbreaks in varied settings—rather than what we've seen thus far in congregate care facilities, etc.—such as households, family gatherings, and any type of place where people are together.