In an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the city of Portland has instituted a curfew though Saturday at bars, restaurants, movie theaters and other places where people congregate. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald

 

PORTLAND — City Manager Jon Jennings has instituted a mandatory curfew through Saturday to cut back on the number of social gatherings in the city in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Businesses where the public congregate will have to close by 8 p.m. through Saturday, March 21. In an emergency declaration issued  March 16, Jennings said this applies to “restaurants, bars, movie theaters, museums, dance clubs, music venues and any other establishment where individuals gather in groups or are in close contact with one another.”

It does not apply to grocery stores.

The coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and has impacted 167,515 worldwide as of Tuesday morning. More than 1,678 people have contracted the virus in the United States.

As of Monday, Maine had 17 confirmed or likely coronavirus cases. Thirteen of those individuals live in Cumberland County. On Monday, Maine Center for Disease Control Director Nirav Shah said his department has received 1,675 consult requests and close to 765 tests for the virus have come back negative.

City Manager Jon Jennings announces a mandatory nightly curfew for places where where people congregate. He also urges gyms and fitness centers to close and restaurants to offer take-out and delivery options to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Courtesy / City of Portland

“This is a time of shared sacrifice for all of us, and we must be willing to alter our daily lives for now,” Jennings said. “We need everyone to take COVID-19 very seriously in order to limit community spread in the greater Portland area and across the state.

“I understand the very difficult situation this puts our business owners in, but in a global pandemic, it cannot be business as usual. We simply cannot have large gatherings, such as in the Old Port. We need your help in confronting the coronavirus. We will continue to reassess as we go forward.”

Additionally, the city is encouraging gyms and fitness centers to close and restaurants to only offer take-out or delivery options for the foreseeable future.

Jenning’s directive comes after Superintendent Xavier Botana shut down on March 14 all school buildings, Portland Adult Education and before and after school programs. All will remain closed until March 30.

“After consulting with our district physician, my administrative team and state and other school district officials, I have determined that this closure is the only responsible action to take,” Botana wrote in a letter to parents. “This decision has been made with careful consideration of the options. We are aware of the fact that closing schools will be a hardship for all families.  For our most disadvantaged community members, it will represent an even greater hardship.”

The district will begin offering meals and online instruction starting Wednesday. Full Plates Full Potential teamed up with area restaurants and food suppliers to put together and deliver more than 1,700 breakfasts and lunches for Portland Public School students.

“When I heard that nearly 2,000 kids would not get meals for two days I reached out to other restaurants and we got to work,” said Ilma Lopez, chef/co-owner of Chaval and Piccolo, two of the restaurants participating, along with Little Giant, Tipo, Central Provisions, Mr. Tuna and LB Kitchen. “No kid should ever go hungry and this is especially true during these circumstances where our businesses, our teams, and our families are suffering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Beginning Wednesday, to-go breakfasts and lunches will be available for families to pick up at their school between 10 a.m. and noon. Families can also pick up educational materials at their schools Wednesday, but only if they can’t access that material online.

The Board of Education was set to meet Tuesday night, after the Forecaster’s deadline, to discuss how to continue to offer education throughout the schools closure. All meetings regarding the development of the FY21 school budget are temporarily suspended until further notice.

The city has canceled public meetings over the next month, suspended employee travel and banned visitors to the city-run Barron Center, where it will screen employees before each shift. New protocols also have been put in place at the city’s homeless shelters in case someone staying there tests positive.

Mayor Kate Snyder said aggressive approaches are needed to slow the spread of the virus.

“I want us to be aggressively cautious in the face of this global pandemic, and as such I’m fully supportive of the measures the City Manager is mandating and recommending in order for us to do what we can to protect our community’s public health,” Snyder said. “We all have an obligation to do what we can to slow the spread, and thus the impacts of this virus, and this requires us to practice social distancing.”

Jennings said his concerns about the coronavirus and how it could impact the city were raised early on the morning of Friday, March 13, when a city public health employee who works at the India Street Clinic tested positive. As a result, 23 public health staff members and seven volunteers have gone into self-quarantine.

As a precaution, the city decided to close the India Street Clinic until March 30.

Additionally, the city is delaying business license renewals until City Hall is up and running, and it is not enforcing street maintenance and parking regulations in some neighborhoods.

“We are taking this seriously and the actions are being made in line with the best public health practices. The goal is to protect our staff and the public,” Jennings said.

The city has also canceled events at Ocean Gateway, Merrill Auditorium and the Portland Exposition building over the next month, Jennings said, to “make sure we are not encouraging people to congregate.”

The city’s recreational programming has also been put on hold.

“Because of the number of people that come and go from our community centers, pools and ice arena, we are going to temporarily close our ice arena, community centers and pools until April 13 when we will reassess and communicate with you,” said Sally L. DeLuca, director of Parks, Recreation & Facilities

Portland Public Library will remain closed until March 30 and all programs, including visits from the bookmobile, are suspended until further notice.

The YMCA of Southern Maine has closed all of its branches through the end of the month.

The Maine Principals’ Association has pushed back high school teams’ preseason practices by a month. They are scheduled to resume April 27.

On the professional sports scene, the threat of coronavirus transmission has canceled the remaining Maine Mariner games, delayed the start of the Portland Sea Dogs season and cut the 2019-2020 Maine Red Claws campaign short.

Mariner fans will either receive a credit for future games or be given a refund. Anyone with Portland Sea Dog tickets for the games impacted can get a refund or two tickets to a future Sea Dogs game.

The Red Claws had eight games left, plus possibly playoff games, when the NBA decided to cancel the remainder of the season.

Local concerts put on by Waterfront Concerts have also been postponed and will be rescheduled. Individuals with tickets to the March 25 Celtic Woman show at Merrill Auditorium or the March 27 Beach Boys show at Merrill Auditorium should hold on to the tickets for the time being. Those tickets will be honored for the rescheduled performance or refunded.

Events at Cross Insurance Arena, including the Harlem Globetrotters appearance on March 19 and Sesame Street Live on March 21 and March 22  and Gabriel Iglesias’ comedy show on March 28 and March 22 have been postponed.

For more information about the coronavirus in the state, visit the Maine CDC’s website. The city is posting information related to resources at https://www.portlandmaine.gov/COVID19. For updates on municipalities around the region, visit https://www.gpcog.org/blog.aspx.

 

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