Events across Maine were canceled en masse Thursday as the spread of COVID-19 claimed sporting events, concerts and many planned gatherings of large groups of people.

Citing the risk of the disease spreading, Gov. Janet Mills strongly urged Mainers to skip nonessential indoor events with 250 people or more. She urged severely high-risk Mainers, including some older adults, not to attend events with more than 10 people.

Many organizations heeded the advice and canceled events. Others were were weighing the impact of the advisory as they decided how to proceed with events on the schedule for this weekend and beyond. Early Thursday evening, the Portland Symphony Orchestra announced it would cancel all its events through April 13, including a Maine bicentennial concert scheduled for Sunday, pops concerts scheduled for March 21 and 22, and another concert on April 7. Portland Ovations, which presents concerts and other arts events at Merrill Auditorium and elsewhere, also announced it would cancel events through April 13.

Late Thursday afternoon, the leaders of several Portland arts groups, including the Portland Museum of Art and Portland Stage, were discussing their options for the weekend and beyond. They said they would issue a joint statement on Friday.

Portland Stage planned to hold its Thursday performance of “Native Gardens,” but limit ticket sales to “comfortably” less than 250, said Anita Stewart, the theater’s executive and artistic director. The theater was implementing additional sanitation procedures, including increasing the frequency of disinfecting common areas, stationing someone at the main entrance so people will not have to touch the door handle and moving all coffee and tea items, including carafes, creamers and sugar, behind the concession counter and away from public access.

Thursday’s advisory, issued by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, recommends that Maine residents and organizations avoid attending and hosting nonessential large indoor gatherings through April 12. The advisory does not suggest an official threshold for what constitutes a large gathering, but the Maine CDC recommends 250 or more people in a confined space. The advisory will be re-evaluated on March 26. “Limiting large gatherings now is proactive and helps Maine continue to prepare for the potential of COVID-19,” the advisory says.

Limiting large crowds will help limit the community transmission of the disease, the guidelines say. Community transmission means that infections occur within a population that do not originate from an affected area elsewhere. When that happens, social distancing helps limit its spread and the impact of an epidemic. Social distancing includes the cancellation of events that draw crowds of people. “Because COVID-19 spreads among people who are in close contact with one another (roughly 6 feet), suspending large gatherings is an important tool to limit the potential spread of COVID-19,” the advisory says. “These measures are most effective when implemented before a community experiences widespread transmission.”

The policy announced Thursday is a recommendation and not a legally enforceable regulation. Among the factors that organizations should consider is the age of the audience attending an event, the size of the gathering space, the duration of the event and the physical distance between people. An outdoor event poses less risk than one in an enclosed space, for instance.

“Organizers should pay particular attention to gatherings expected to draw older attendees or those who are known to have chronic medical conditions,” the advisory said. “U.S. CDC’s current guidance for organizations that serve high-risk populations is to consider suspending events of more than 10 people, given that older adults are a high-risk population.”

While some organizations considered how to handle the advisory, others took quick action. Organizers canceled Portland’s St. Patrick’s Day parade Thursday morning, ahead of the announcement. PortTix, which sells tickets for events at Merrill Auditorium, stopped ticket sales to all upcoming events early Thursday afternoon and concerts there, including Celtic Woman on March 25 and the Beach Boys on March 27, were postponed.

PSO Executive Director Carolyn Nishon asked ticket holders “to exchange or donate their tickets as a tax-deductible donation because as a nonprofit arts organization, we truly rely on the people we serve. That has never been more true than during this time of event closures as our community works together to reduce the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19. Your support today is more important than ever.”

The Maine Jewish Film Festival, scheduled to begin March 28, postponed to the fall. “Our initial ticket sales were strong, leading us to anticipate crowds in close quarters at many programs, conditions which are contrary to recommendations from multiple public health experts regarding public gatherings,” the festival’s executive director, Barbara Merson, wrote in an email to subscribers. “The Maine Jewish Film Festival is about people spending time together, connecting with familiar friends and making new ones. The power of a shared emotional experience is amplified when we laugh, cry, and reflect together. We will look at dates in the fall and will plan to welcome you to the (f)estival then.”

Stewart and her staff at Portland Stage convened soon after Mills gave a news conference announcing the new guidelines, as well as the state’s first presumptive-positive case of COVID-19. Portland Stage is in the middle of a run of the play “Native Gardens,” which opened March 3 and is scheduled through March 22. The next show on the Portland Stage calendar, “The Children,” is to open April 7, which means the disease could cost the theater company box-office receipts for parts of two plays. Portland Stage invests more than $200,000 in each of its productions, Stewart said.

“Unless otherwise directed by public health officials, all performances, public programs, and events will go on as scheduled,” Portland Stage said on its website Thursday afternoon. “The current recommendation from the Maine Center for Disease Control is to limit public gatherings of over 250 people. We will reduce the number of tickets for sale to comfortably be under 250.”

Stewart said she and her staff have never experienced such uncertainty. “I don’t think any of us has ever dealt with anything quite like this before,” she said. “We’ve certainly dealt with the flu epidemic before, but it felt like the government was on top of things, and we had clear guidance. This situation has felt like there is a lack of clear information, and it has caused a lot of confusion. We’ve all got to come to terms that there’s this new thing in the world, and we have to be aware of it and responsible. As a theater and as an arts leader in Maine, it is important for us to be taking a leadership role in this.”

As of Thursday at noon, the 75-seat Footlights Theater in Falmouth also planned to go ahead with its weekend performances of “Leonora Rabinowitz I Love You.” Michael Tobin, the theater’s executive and artistic director, said he would limit the audience to half-capacity to give people space. “We are sanitizing everything and doing everything we can to make this a safe environment. But it has to start with people. We are telling people, do not come if you are sick,” Tobin said. “There’s a lot of fear out there, but it doesn’t mean life stops. If people are smart and listen to who they need to listen to about this, we’ll get through it.”

The Public Theatre in Lewiston plans to present its play “I and You,” opening Friday, and will cap attendance at less than 250, the theater said in a news release. It will increase how thorough and frequently it cleans the theater, disinfect armrests before each performance and not recycle playbills, among other things.

As of Thursday, upcoming shows at Port City Music Hall were scheduled to go on while events at the larger State Theatre were canceled or postponed. Lauren Wayne, who handles bookings for both venues, wrote a long Facebook post explaining her thought process, asking sick people to stay home and vowing to update the website with new information.

“In full disclosure, we don’t have all the answers right now. No one does,” she wrote.

The Telling Room postponed its spring fundraiser at the State, Show & Tell, until the fall. The St. Lawrence Arts Center on Munjoy Hill planned to remain open, with its next public gathering set for Monday when it hosts a silent film. The next play at the St. Lawrence, Good Theater’s “Desperate Measures,” is set to open March 25.

In Boston, four museums jointly announced indefinite closures on Thursday: The Harvard Art Museums, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. In New York, the Met closed and Broadway shuttered its theaters after days of resisting the action. In Salem, Massachusetts, the Peabody-Essex Museum also closed indefinitely. The national concert promoter Live Nation paused all of its tours.

The Bates College Museum of Art closed to the public on Thursday, though it remained open to students. The Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland remained open, but is canceling a reception for its new exhibition, “Skirting the Line,” scheduled for March 21.

In Rockland, the Farnsworth Art Museum remains open, but all events at the museum, including Saturday’s Bicentennial Birthday Bash, are either canceled or postponed. The Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art canceled an opening reception and gallery talk for the new exhibition “Some Things We Can Do Together: Megan and Murray McMillan,” planned for March 19.

Other groups canceled events ahead of Mills’ recommendation. Maine Historical Society canceled a board meeting and the opening for an ambitious bicentennial exhibition scheduled for Thursday night. Merrill Memorial Library in Yarmouth canceled a reading and performances of authors concerned about climate change, scheduled for Saturday, and ChoralArt, which had planned to present a concert in late March, postponed to the fall.

ChoralArt board chairman David White said he and colleagues happened to have a regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday morning when they decided they should be proactive and cancel. “We were looking at a concert that was not quite three weeks away, and as we looked at that there were a tremendous number of unknowns,” he said. “Clearly, everybody thought we are more at the beginning of this than the end of this.”

The DaPonte String Quartet is in the midst of a statewide tour with a bicentennial concert. As of Thursday, the DaPonte’s concert for Sunday in Newcastle was still on, but it’s concert at the Maine Jewish Museum in Portland next Thursday has been canceled. The coronavirus was on the minds of everyone when the DaPonte performed last weekend, violist Kirsten Monke said.

“People avoided the usual hugs and handshakes, and we tried to help encourage that. I think our crowd is highly aware and extremely conscientious about doing the right thing,” she said. “Lots of hand washers and sanitizers. I have to say, I didn’t hear any coughing in the audience for the first time in a very long time.”

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