Gov. Janet Mills is delaying the reopening of bars and lowering the maximum number of people allowed to gather indoors to 50 following a spike in new coronavirus cases this week that raised fears that the virus is out of control, she announced Sunday.
The state will be reinstating 14-day quarantines and requiring COVID-19 testing within 72 hours of arrival for visitors from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts remain exempt from the revisions, but Mills might add Massachusetts to the list if trends there do not improve, she said.
“If we do not control this outbreak, we may never get this evil genie back in the bottle,” Mills said.
Changes to travel restrictions and gathering limits go into effect on Wednesday.
The move didn’t come as a complete surprise. Mills’ changes were signaled Friday by her spokesperson’s statement that the Democratic governor would likely make changes this weekend. Boston University epidemiologist Dr. Robert Horsburgh Jr. told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday that Maine should cancel its anticipated reopening of bars and reimpose some indoor gathering restrictions after this week’s increase in cases, which followed a lifting of seating capacity in restaurants, churches and movie theaters less than three weeks ago.
Mills’ administration had previously increased indoor seating limits to 50 percent of permitted capacity or 100 people, whichever was less. Occupancy limits for retail establishments will remain at five people per 1,000 square feet of shopping space.
Mills apologized to bar and tasting room owners for the delay in reopening but underlined the hazards Maine is facing with the pandemic.
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There was a record number of active cases reported on Saturday in Maine and one new death. That followed Friday’s record 119 new cases reported across the state and 94 on Thursday. Friday’s number was the first to hit triple digits and the second record-number in a row. A glitch at the Maine CDC on Sunday resulted in an incomplete count of new cases.
Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah said this week that community spread of the virus is occurring throughout the state, with a growing portion of cases now tied to small informal gatherings rather than to large institutional outbreaks.
The state had loosened the seating limits on restaurants, churches and movie theaters on Oct. 13 and was set to allow a limited reopening of bars and tasting rooms starting Monday. It also recently moved Massachusetts onto a list of northeastern states whose residents are able to travel to Maine without quarantining for two weeks or showing proof of a negative test.
The virus can easily spread when people gather without masks indoors. Cases have been climbing across the whole country, including in all of the northeastern states.
Maine’s changes are in line with those made in other states in recent days, Mills said. New York adopted an aggressive quarantine and testing plan for visitors from most states. Rhode Island reduced its gathering limits. Massachusetts added Connecticut and New Jersey to its quarantine requirements, and Connecticut urged stricter enforcement of COVID-19 rules following incidents at bars, Mills said.
“Like most people in this state, I am extremely concerned about the spread of this virus as we head into colder winter months and the holiday season, when we customarily gather with friends and family,” Mills said.
“Unfortunately, in this era, dinner parties and other traditional gatherings can play host to an uninvited guest: a deadly virus for which there is no treatment and no cure, a virus which is attacking babies, teenagers, Millennials and seniors alike in every region of Maine and all across the country. Each one of us must assume personal responsibility for our actions and do everything we can to get this virus under control.”