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Maine has become one of at least a dozen states that are beginning to ease restrictions on businesses in rural areas with fewer cases of the coronavirus while many rules will be in place in more heavily populated areas until June.
On Friday, Gov. Janet Mills announced that in 12 of the state’s more rural counties, retail establishments would be able to reopen on Monday and restaurants would be able to open for limited dine-in service on May 18, so long as they follow a number of new health guidelines.
The regional reopening has come at least partly at the urging of people in Maine’s hospitality and tourism industries and Republicans who have hammered the Mills administration for the economic harm that they said could result from continuing the restrictions.
However, the current restrictions will not be lifted in Cumberland and York counties, which have the state’s most confirmed coronavirus cases, as well as in Androscoggin and Penobscot counties. The state has found the virus to be spreading between people who have not traveled internationally in all four of those counties, which will have to wait until June to begin reopening further under the Democratic governor’s plan.
Unlike Maine, dozens of states have either made no decision on lifting their economic restrictions or have begun doing so on a statewide basis. At least 10 other states have announced varying plans to reopen certain counties sooner than others, according to information collected by CNN and news reports from individual states.
Some of those states, such as Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, have divided their states into separate regions that will see business restrictions lifted on staggered dates or as they have reached certain milestones in controlling the infection.
Another state taking that kind of approach, Pennsylvania, is alreading lifting the tightest restrictions on about half of its 67 counties — accounting for much of the western half of the state — because they meet benchmarks including low case counts of the virus, sparse populations and the ability to conduct enough testing and contact tracing.
The looser restrictions have allowed child care facilities — which Maine never closed — and retail settings to reopen with precautions. But under Pennsylvania’s reopening plan, those counties deemed to be in a “yellow phase” still face limits. Their restaurants can still only offer take-out or delivery and gyms, spas and hair salons must remain closed.
In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee has taken a unique approach of allowing some rural counties to petition for a lifting of restrictions if they have fewer than 75,000 people and three weeks without new cases of the virus. Other states, including Florida, have discriminated less in their prioritization of certain areas for reopening. The Sunshine State has begun lifting restrictions in all but its three most populous counties: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.
Watch: Janet Mills shares changes for rural businesses