Health officials in Maine are reevaluating whether bars should still open to indoor service on July 1 in light of outbreaks connected to bars as they reopen elsewhere in the U.S.
Bar outbreaks in Jacksonville, Florida, and Boise, Idaho, have given Maine health officials pause as they look to July 1, Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday.
There’s a distinct risk of the coronavirus transmitting easily in bars because they’re often crowded with people who are less likely to be wearing face coverings as they drink and socialize, Shah said. Patrons are also often speaking loudly in bars, and infected people can release more viral droplets when speaking at elevated volumes.
“The reason you go to a bar is to not social distance,” Shah said.
In Jacksonville, 16 bar customers and seven employees became infected with the coronavirus on a single night, June 6, after bars in much of Florida were allowed to reopen earlier this month. Some bars in Jacksonville have since closed down again following the outbreak.
In Boise, health officials have so far confirmed 34 cases of the coronavirus among people who reported visiting multiple downtown bars on the nights of June 5 and June 6.
“As the outbreaks in Jacksonville and Boise show, there is a distinct risk associated with opening bars early,” Shah said. “We in Maine could very well have an outbreak at any of our facilities here.”
In Maine, bars have been slated to be able to reopen for indoor service on July 1 under Gov. Janet Mills’ four-stage reopening plan.
Bars and tasting rooms in 13 counties have been allowed to serve customers outside since June 5. Effective Wednesday, they’re allowed to resume outdoor service in the three remaining counties — Cumberland, York and Androscoggin.
“Our concern level for outdoor bars is lower than for indoor establishments,” he said.