On the deadliest day yet for the coronavirus in Maine, Gov. Janet Mills unveiled an outline for reopening the state’s economy but did not provide any firm dates or share what specific criteria her administration will rely on.

Mills’ office released what it called a “vision” ahead of the daily news briefing Thursday afternoon. It includes four basic principles of “protecting public health, maintaining health care readiness, building reliable and accessible testing, and prioritizing public-private collaboration.”

However, the outline does not specify what public health criteria the administration would apply to determine whether it was safe to reopen. There is broad consensus among public health experts on four critical conditions for a safe reopening: at least two weeks of declining case numbers; widespread access to testing; a track and trace system to find and isolate people who may have been exposed to the virus, and, if available, an accurate antibody test to determine who may be immune.

Asked during the briefing what criteria her team might use to determine when certain steps could be taken to ease restrictions, the governor did not elaborate but said specifics would be forthcoming.

“All our decisions are based on facts, science, public health data and common sense,” she said.

In response to a Press Herald reporter’s questions submitted by email after the briefing, Mills’ office would not say whether she agreed that the criteria for declining cases, widespread testing, a track and trace system, and antibody testing should be met before the Maine economy reopens.

Lindsay Crete, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in a written response that the administration will use “criteria and measures currently under development by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention,” and that the criteria are expected to be finalized soon and released publicly.

A news release from the governor’s office about her vision for reopening said the state would rely on “epidemiological data, such as case trends, hospitalization rates, recoveries and deaths,” but did not identify specific benchmarks.

The release said the state must maintain its capacity to respond to any surge and will continue assessing available hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators, and distribute personal protective equipment as needed. Again, it didn’t say what the capacity must be before a reopening can occur.

And finally, the release said testing capacity needs to be expanded, but did not indicate what level of testing would allow for easing of restrictions.

The governor’s outline also did not include a timeline, and Mills later said she has not decided whether to extend or let expire the stay-at-home emergency, which runs through April 30, only a week away.

Before Thursday’s briefing, the Maine CDC released the latest statistics, which included five new deaths, the largest single-day total so far. Maine also has seen 937 confirmed cases, an increase of 30 since Wednesday and the biggest single-day increase in a week.

The state also reported that 30 additional people have recovered, bringing that total to 485. Active cases now stand at 408 and that number has been leveling off over the last week.

Asked whether any of the data or the models the state is using point to a safe date to ease restrictions, CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said there is no model that gives that date.

“The virus does as the virus does. Our job is to respond,” he said.

As part of the planning for gradually lifting restrictions, the CDC is developing measures to detect a resurgence in the virus that may necessitate the reimplementation of restrictions.

Several states, mostly in the south and led by Republican governors, are pushing to ease some restrictions as early as Friday, even as health officials warn that doing so will almost certainly lead to more cases and deaths. Most polls show overwhelming public support for stay-at-home measures.

Mills and Shah both acknowledged Thursday that Maine remains in the thick of things, but said the state can still prepare for reopening. The governor said she’s launching an online portal to solicit feedback from the public and said the private sector needs to be involved in the solutions.

“Government alone cannot fix this,” she said.

That portal will be run through the Department of Economic and Community Development.

“These have been challenging times for Maine’s economy and as we work to reopen the state it will take thoughtful collaboration to ensure that we effectively prioritize public health while reopening businesses sectors,” DECD Commissioner Heather Johnson said.

Mills acknowledged the enormous challenges of opening the state, even gradually.

“There are very hard decisions,” she said. “I’m trying to balance the saving of lives and livelihoods at the same time.”

The governor said that when businesses do start to reopen, many will likely look a lot different. Some businesses will have to alter their practices or make modifications to “protect the public health at every step.”

A simple step might be closing down break rooms. A more complex one might be changing the entire process for conducting customer sales.

Mills said she hopes Maine people offer feedback.

“Give us your ideas on how we can do things differently,” she said. “Things will not return to normal soon. We should call on each other to reimagine how we do things as members of a common society … taking care not just of ourselves but for every man woman and child for whom we are now responsible.”

Mills said she’s working closely with her counterparts in New Hampshire and Vermont, which have similar populations and economies, on ways to minimize interstate travel.

One concern shared by all states is whether lifting restrictions might encourage people from other parts of the country to start visiting northern New England.

Mills said she doesn’t want to see anyone bring the virus to Maine and said her two-week self-quarantine order for people coming to Maine from another state remains in effect.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: