Governors across the country have imposed tough restrictions on public travel and gatherings to combat the spread of coronavirus, but Gov. Janet Mills is not yet ready to order Mainers to shelter in place, the state’s top public health official told reporters on Monday.

Dr. Nirav Shah said the governor’s coronavirus response team was continually monitoring the situation but was not urging further restrictions on the public or businesses beyond those that Mills announced last week. Instead, Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, urged all Mainers to behave as if they had the virus already, to limit their physical contact with others, to wash their hands frequently and to avoid travel beyond the home if they felt ill.

But some local officials were taking matters into their own hands.

The Brunswick Town Council, in a meeting Monday night attended remotely by most of its members, voted to declare a civil emergency, which effectively imposes a shelter-in-place order on residents. The declaration lists 27 “essential” businesses that can remain in operation and requires that all others close. The order is effective for seven days but is expected to be renewed.

Brunswick’s move is similar to an order issued by municipal leaders in Bangor, which also went into effect Monday, the Times Record reported.

Other more targeted restrictions have been applied in towns like York, where the town manager closed the town’s public beaches after large crowds turned out there over the weekend.


Mills has not ordered state parks or beaches closed to the public, and Shah and other state officials have encouraged Mainers to get outside and stay active. Mills also suspended recreational fishing license requirements until the end of April, which allows free fishing on all inland bodies of water in Maine.

Lindsay Crete, press secretary for Mills, said the governor was in ongoing conversations about a shelter-in-place order and needed to weigh the impact it would have on the state’s health care system and the economy.

“The governor is taking into consideration all options,” Crete said in a written statement. “Those discussions are ongoing, and include but are not limited to the public health efficacy of such an order compared to existing measures, Maine-specific factors, and the potential secondary health and economic implications of such orders. The governor will make recommendations based upon their advice and what she deems is in the best interest of the health and safety of Maine people.”

Among the concerns, Crete said, are that people who need daily kidney dialysis or cancer screening might delay or forgo care, and that people would no longer donate blood at a time when the state faces a critical blood shortage.

“Additionally we know that unemployment and social isolation can lead to higher rates of suicide,” Crete said. “The governor is taking these factors into consideration as she weighs different options.”

Shah spoke at a news briefing shortly after Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker tightened restrictions in his state but stopped just short of ordering residents to shelter in place, a move that other governors have taken.


Maine and New Hampshire have closed restaurants and bars to dining in, closed most public schools and are urging strict social distancing practices, but they have yet to restrict the movement of residents or limit travel to only essential workers, such as emergency responders and health care providers.

Governors in California, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and at least a dozen other states were ordering residents to stay home except for essential purposes such as seeking food or medical help. Louisiana put tough restrictions on movement into place at 5 p.m. Monday.

But before Maine takes that step, Shah said other measures needed to be evaluated. Although health officials expect that community transmission of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, would expand to other counties in Maine, so far it has been limited to Maine’s most populous county, Cumberland.

Shah said Mills moved early to encourage social distancing, closed restaurants to dining in on Wednesday and encouraged only essential travel. Mills also declared a civil state of emergency on March 15 as it became apparent the state was going to be hit hard by the virus. She also quickly reduced limits on nonessential social gatherings to less than 10 people.

“(A shelter-in-place order) is something we have discussed, we continue to discuss it, we discuss every potential option on the table,” Shah said, after reporting that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Maine had risen to 107.

He said a shelter-in-place order had to be judged against the backdrop of the orders Mills had already put in place.


“We don’t come to this discussion having done nothing,” Shah said. “We come to this discussion having done a substantial amount, in many cases more than other states have done.”

He noted that the state’s health care system is dealing with a shortage of blood, and that severe restrictions on movement could worsen that situation by stifling donations, potentially putting the lives of people who need medical treatment at risk.

Shah also said health officials had to consider Maine’s epidemiological profile, which includes a relative small number of people in a fairly large geographical area, for most parts of the state.

“Maine is not Manhattan,” Shah said, noting that the most densely populated of the five boroughs that make up New York City has 1.6 million people on an island of just 23 square miles. That compares to Maine’s population of 1.3 million people in a land area of more than 35,000 square miles. Manhattan has a population density of 70,000 people per square mile while Maine’s is just over 43 people per square mile, Shah said.

“We are thinking about these things, we are thinking about them very intensely,” Shah said.

York’s town manager, Steve Burns, said the number of people coming to the town’s beaches over the weekend was concerning enough for town officials that they made the difficult decision to shut down the town’s beaches.

Wells Town Manager Jonathan Carter voiced similar concerns and noted the neighboring town of Ogunquit’s downtown looked like a normal busy summer weekend. Carter said the additional visitors, many of them from other states, could put an increased strain on local governments that are working to contain or slow the spread of the virus.

Crete said Maine’s laws and official declarations – including the governor’s to not congregate in groups larger than 10 people – apply to visitors to the state and residents alike.

Crete said Mills was urging “in the strongest possible terms that all people – regardless of where they are from – engage in physical distancing in order to protect their health and that of their families, loved ones and fellow citizens.”

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