Part of an occasional series answering readers’ questions about Maine. 

Q: Gov. Mills said Maine tenants can get $500 to help cover rent payments during the pandemic. How do I get it?

A: First, you’ll need to determine if you are eligible.

Renters qualify if they cannot pay rent because of the coronavirus and their monthly income is less than $3,696 for an individual; $4,833 for a two-person household; $5,971 for a three-person household; and $7,108 for a household with four or more people.

The inability to pay can be because of unemployment or lost income, such as because of layoffs or child care responsibilities, and lack of savings.You are not eligible if you receive some other types of rental assistance or live in certain types of public housing.

As the renter, you have to apply for the assistance, but the benefit is paid directly to the landlord. Landlords who agree to participate in the program will get the revenue, and have to agree to allow the tenant extra time to pay the remaining rental fee.

To apply for the COVID Rental Relief Program, you can download and fill out the application by going to the MaineHousing website.

Mills also issued an order barring landlords from evicting tenants because of inability to pay during the crisis.

Q: My husband got very sick in early February with a severe cough and fever, and he also lost his sense of smell. Does this mean he had the coronavirus and is now immune?

A: Not necessarily, and because of the timing, probably not.

The loss of smell is indeed an indicator someone may be infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Some people may also lose their sense of taste.

However, other respiratory viruses also can cause a person to lose the sense of smell or taste, so it might have been some other virus in circulation at the time.

The timing of early February is another clue. The disease was prevalent at that time in China, with some clusters of cases in other parts of Asia, in Europe and aboard cruise ships. On Feb. 10, there were 13 confirmed cases in the United States. Most of those were in California, with others in Arizona, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington.

The timing does not rule out an undiagnosed case of coronavirus somewhere else in the country at that time, but it does reduce the odds that your husband’s illness was caused by the novel coronavirus and not something else.

Right now, there is no widely available antibody test to know for certain if he had it. Would he be immune? The answer to that question is not yet clear and scientists are working to find out whether people who had the disease have immunity and how long it will last. There’s a good chance. People infected with similar viruses have developed an immunity that lasts at least a year, although it can vary from person to person.

Q: Can we still hire our high school student neighbor to do yardwork for us during the stay-at-home order?

A: Construction, maintenance and property management are essential services and allowed to operate in Maine, and lawn care companies are still doing business.

But while that appears to cover the neighborhood teenager doing yardwork, there is one other issue.

If your neighbor is 17 or younger, labor laws still apply even though he isn’t attending school in person right now.

The Department of Labor recently put out a reminder that school is still considered to be in session and 14- and 15-year-olds cannot work during school hours, more than three hours on a school day or more than 18 hours total in a week. Teens who are 16 and 17 also are restricted from working during school hours, but can work up to six hours on a school day.

Q: I’m happy that liquor stores remain open, but are they really classified as essential?

A: They really are, both in Maine and on the federal level.

The Federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, released guidelines that many states are using to determine which businesses and workers are essential during the coronavirus crisis. That list includes liquor stores, but it doesn’t mean states have to take that recommendation.

In Maine, the department that oversees the alcohol industry submitted a waiver application on behalf of all specialty beer and wine stores to define them as essential. After a review by the governor’s office, those specialty stores were deemed essential, which helps to “disperse consumers of beer and wine across many venues and minimizes their exposure to locations where there are sizable public gatherings,” according to the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations.

Of course, those stores have to observe the same limits on customers as all other essential businesses and are encouraged to use curbside pickup when possible. Beer and wine retail delivery is allowed in Maine, which some local breweries have taken advantage of to get their beer into the hands of eager customers.

Some advocates and officials have argued that keeping liquor stores open is actually a public health strategy. They worry that people addicted to alcohol could have dangerous withdrawals and, in some cases, turn to much more dangerous substances like rubbing alcohol or car coolant if liquor is unavailable.

Pennsylvania is the only state so far to shut down all liquor stores, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Q: If I just returned to Maine from outside the state, does the 14-day quarantine mean I can’t go out for a walk or for groceries?

A: Welcome back. Your neighbors will he happy to know you got the messages about the 14-day quarantine.

We have good news and bad. Gov. Janet Mills has ordered anyone coming to Maine to self-quarantine for 14 days except when engaging in essential services. Those essential services include getting groceries, medicine and other necessary supplies, washing clothes at a laundromat and using the post office.

Anyone who is outside their home, whether or not they have just returned to Maine, is supposed to practice physical distancing. It’s also a good idea to wash your hands and wear a face mask.

But while grocery shopping is allowed, the list of essential services does not including leaving home to exercise or walk the dog.

Those activities are listed as essential activities for leaving home under a separate order, but that order does not appear to apply to you during your first 14 days in the state.

Some police departments that patrol public open spaces are instructing newly arrived people that walking outdoors is not allowed until the quarantine period has passed.

  • The place we live in is an endless source of small mysteries. Whose idea was that? Where’d that come from? What’s up, when and why? Tell us what’s puzzling you about Maine or your local community using the form here. We’ll pick questions that have broad interest, find the answers and report back. So, got questions, Maine? We know you do.
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