Gov. Janet Mills addresses members of the Legislature electronically at the Augusta Civic Center in this Dec. 17, 2020 photo. Mills was scheduled to swear in the newly elected Legislature, but she is in quarantine after she was potentially exposed to the coronavirus. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills announced Friday that houses of worship will be able to allow more people to congregate and instituted new rules allowing for masked and distanced singing at indoor entertainment venues.

The new order tweaking Maine’s set of coronavirus restrictions allows for either five people per 1,000 square feet or 50 people, whichever is greater, to gather indoors. The prior limit was 50 people, which now gives places of worship the same restrictions as retail spaces.

Mills also advised indoor entertainment venues to space out rehearsals, space non-household patrons out by six feet and require performers to wear masks at all times in an attempt to give those venues options on how to host indoor singing events. Performers must also be at least 14 feet apart from audience members. The Mills administration said in a news release that the measures are part of its efforts to prepare for the spring and summer tourism season.

The news comes as coronavirus cases in Maine trended downward in early February. But health officials have warned that the arrival of a more contagious variant of the virus in Maine could reverse that trend. The strain that originated in the United Kingdom was confirmed to have been found in the state this week.

Mills’ move to initially limit in-person attendance at religious gatherings was the subject of lawsuits in Maine, with the evangelical Calvary Church in Orrington currently awaiting an appeal in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. The church has argued a U.S. Supreme Court case striking down similar limitations in New York should apply in Maine.