Barber shops, golf courses, car dealerships and state parks in Maine could reopen as soon as Friday.

But Maine’s enormous summer festival season – celebrating everything from blueberries to blues music – could be scrapped for 2020. And out-of-state tourists to Maine may have to make other plans unless they can squeeze in a 14-day quarantine before their vacations.

Those are some of the highlights of a complex, multi-phased plan to reopen Maine’s coronavirus-stricken economy unveiled by Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday.

With COVID-19 infection and death rates flattening, Mills and officials from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention outlined a tentative plan that would allow some businesses to begin reopening on Friday as long as they commit to stringent public safety protocols. But Mills’ plan continues prohibiting social gatherings larger than 10 people, requires out-of-state visitors to quarantine for 14 days and adds a new face-covering requirement, effective Friday, for Mainers in public spaces where physical distancing is not an option.

Mills announced that she is extending the statewide stay-at-home order through May 31. Health care facilities will be allowed to resume some elective surgeries for patients with time-sensitive conditions, beginning Friday.

But many people working remotely should expect to do so until at least September. The governor said she is working with schools so they can reopen in the fall.

“While this plan presents a path forward for slowly restarting our economy, it should not lure Maine people into thinking the pandemic is almost over or that things will be back to normal soon,” Mills said. “The hard truth is things are not normal and that they will likely not be normal any time soon, and that, with this plan, we are beginning to invent a new normal.”

Several leaders of Maine’s business community said the timeline removes some of the uncertainty surrounding the current state of lockdown. But others said Mills’ approach was too cautious, and that many businesses could return to safe operation well before the July 1 date proposed for Stage 3 of the plan.

The reality of that “new normal” and the timing of rollout of the remaining phases will depend heavily on whether Maine continues to see a downward trajectory of new cases and deaths, hospital capacity and the ability of the state to have a “robust” testing system, Mills said.

Many public health experts say that for a reopening to minimize public health risks, states should have at least a two-week decline in cases and hospitalizations, provide widespread access to testing for the public and implement an aggressive track-and-trace system to find people who may have been exposed to an infected individual so they can be quarantined.

Mills’ plan broadly reflects several of those criteria, but it does not provide specific benchmarks for the decline in cases, the number of tests the state should be capable of conducting, or the capacity of its track-and-trace program.

If virus conditions continue to improve by June 1, phase 2 of Mills’ plan would allow restaurants, fitness centers, retail stores, lodgings and campgrounds to reopen for Maine residents or others who have met 14-day quarantine requirements.

Progressively larger gatherings of people are permitted as the state advances through the stages.

But it wouldn’t be until July or August that hotels, campgrounds and RV parks could begin serving out-of-state visitors – and even then, only if they’ve maintained a previous 14-day quarantine. Additionally, bars would remain closed to all patrons until July or August.

Barber shops, like Roger’s Barber Shop in Biddeford, and hair salons will be permitted to reopen Friday in the first stage of Gov. Janet Mills’ plan to reopen the state’s economy. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

That timeline means many of Maine’s tourism-based businesses may lose half of the typical summer season and could still lose large numbers of would-be clients unable to pre-quarantine for 14 days before their vacation.

The prospects also looked bleak Tuesday for Maine’s multitude of summer festivals and concerts scattered throughout the state. Stage 3 of the plan, tentatively slated to begin in July, prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people due to the health risks of larger gatherings.

“I’m going to miss those festivals as much as anybody, but I don’t know how we can allow them at this point in time,” Mills said. “We can revisit it, but I just don’t know how we can do it safely. You know, they get crowded.”

Asked about the potentially enormous economic cost on Maine’s multibillion dollar tourism industry, Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said her office is working with the hospitality sector to find other solutions. One possibility, in conjunction with Maine CDC, would be to offer some sort of testing.

“We don’t have all of those final answers right now, but that work is underway and we are actively pursing solutions because we agree with you that a lot of people don’t come for the full 14 days,” Johnson said. “And we would certainly like to find creative solutions that prioritize keeping people safe, but also allow for people to have access to some of these tourism assets that we find so valuable.”

Some public health experts in Maine said Tuesday that the state still needs more capacity to test and track the virus, especially now that the governor is about to begin loosening the stay-at-home order that has worked to slow its spread. But, they also said the gradual phase-in presented by Mills allows time to continue ramping up those defensive efforts and to adjust the rules if the virus spreads.

Mills said the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention will be tracking three primary metrics to determine whether it is safe to progress through the stages: a downward trend in influenza-like illnesses and COVID-like cases; a downward trend in confirmed cases and newly hospitalized patients; the capacity of hospitals to treat all patients without crisis care and the ability of the state to engage in a robust testing program.

Mills also cautioned that the month-by-month timeline envisioned in her plan is entirely dependent on the virus situation in Maine.

“If the Maine CDC detects any resurgence of the virus, we will move quickly to halt progression through the stages and re-implement restrictions to protect your health and safety,” Mills said.

Wine glasses, plates and napkins were left on a table in the closed restaurant Piccolo in downtown Portland on Tuesday. Stage two of the governor’s reopening plan, which would tentatively happen June 1, would allow for some operation of restaurants, with limitations. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Portland officials did not respond to requests for an interview Tuesday about how Mills’ reopening plan would mesh with the city’s restrictions. The golf courses, hair salons and barber shops that can reopen Friday under the governor’s plan are not permitted to operate under Portland’s stay-at-home order, which is in effect until May 18.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said his agency has been closely tracking confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths, hospital use and capacity, as well as the harder-to-gauge number of Mainers who might have the disease but have not been tested.

Maine CDC attempts to track the latter by looking at reports of individuals with flu-like symptoms to detect “that part of the iceberg that we might not see but that we know is there.” In all of those categories, Shah said, the trend appears to headed in the right direction with a flattening or downward trajectory.

“Even though we are trending in the right direction right now, there is the possibility that things could go back and we could have another spike, so one of the things that our team at Maine CDC is working on is not just looking forward but always looking at the day-to-day data to be able to detect any spike or resurgence.”

Coronavirus infections rose slightly again Tuesday as state health officials reported 17 new confirmed cases but no additional deaths.

If virus conditions continue to improve as of June 1, the governor’s plan would allow hotels like the Regency in Portland to reopen for guests who have quarantined for 14 days. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The CDC posted new figures Tuesday morning showing 1,040 confirmed cases, up from 1,023 on Monday. The death toll from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus held steady at 51.

After accounting for deaths and the 585 individuals who have recovered from the disease, the figures show 404 active cases of COVID-19. That is a decrease of 19 from Monday. Health officials caution that the number of confirmed cases only captures a portion of the actual cases because not everyone with symptoms is being tested.

There were 33 people hospitalized because of complications related to COVID-19 on Tuesday – down from 39 on Monday – with 17 people being treated in intensive care units and seven using a ventilator to support their breathing.

The stay-at-home order that Mills originally announced last month requires Mainers to stay in their homes except for essential activities, such as grocery shopping, picking up pharmaceuticals, seeking medical care, exercising or recreating outdoors, caring for another person or livestock, necessary home maintenance, or commuting to an essential job.

Stage 4 of the reopening plan, at a time yet to be determined, lifts allows businesses and activities to resume operating with appropriate safety precautions. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Much of Maine’s economy – and the nation’s – is currently shuttered as government officials attempt to reduce transmission of the disease through stay-at-home orders and physical or social distancing.

More than 100,000 individuals, or roughly one in seven Maine workers, have filed unemployment claims since the start of the pandemic. The food service, hospitality, recreation and entertainment industries have been hit particularly hard, with roughly a quarter of the workers in those industries out of a job.

There has been growing pressure in Maine and other states to relax some of those restrictions, although doing so too early or in an unsafe fashion could lead to new spikes in cases and deaths. More than 50,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Various organizations have weighed in with their own proposals for gradually reopening Maine’s economy, including by filing comments with the state through a suggestion portal launched by the Mills administration earlier this month.

On Monday, the Retail Association of Maine sent Mills a proposal that uses color-coded risk assessments similar to the fire danger system to designate the level of restrictions on businesses.

The conservative policy center Maine Policy Institute, meanwhile, recommended Mills allow the stay-at-home order to expire on Thursday and the civil emergency declaration to lapse on May 15. The group also recommended lifting industry-specific restrictions and advised against a phased roll-out of reopening specific industries, although they suggested Maine’s hotels and tourism-focused industries should plan for late-summer bookings.

“Business owners understand that they have to show that they are taking recommended public health measures seriously in order to attract customers again,” the Maine Policy Institute proposal states. “Government cannot become the sanitation police. The state using its limited resources to approve one by one which businesses are allowed to open would be a foolish and wasteful endeavor.”

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