A runner passes by a window displaying portraits of people wearing face coverings to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, in Lewiston, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — The passage of a coronavirus-related stimulus package does not mean Maine will bring back coronavirus-related restrictions.

Gov. Janet Mills said in November that the lack of a major federal stimulus since the spring made it harder to impose restrictions to tamp down the spread of the virus. But she also pushed back last week on tying stimulus checks to reopening, saying public health would guide decisions about restrictions as the state battles its worst surge yet.

That reluctance is still a major factor in the state’s response after President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion aid package on Sunday after days of delay and controversy over his reluctance to accept a deal negotiated by his own administration and congressional leaders. It will provide additional aid to unemployed Mainers, business relief and rental assistance.

Mills said her stay-at-home order helped Maine keep the virus under control for many months as other states saw resurgences, but called the decision “painful.” That order came while the coronavirus was concentrated in just a few counties in Maine. Now it is widely circulating throughout the state. She didn’t know if such a measure would be effective now, she said in an interview last week.

“The overriding factor in everything we’ve done is the public health requirements, keeping people safe and healthy as possible,” Mills said.

A spokesperson for Mills said her stance had not changed after Trump signed the relief bill.

Conservative lawmakers are likely to take aim at Mills’ executive powers when the Legislature returns, though their prospects for success are slim because Democratic leaders have backed the governor. House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, praised Mills’ handling of the pandemic in a statement Monday.

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, has put forward a bill that would require each continuation of the state of emergency to get a two-thirds Legislative vote, a measure he said would wrest some control back into lawmakers’ hands. It is unclear when the bill will be brought up. Mills dismissed Republican efforts to limit her power, noting all states are currently in a state of emergency.

BDN writer Jessica Piper contributed to this report.

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