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

Q: Why are restaurants scheduled to open June 1 and bars July 1, and what if a business is both?

A: As with so many other questions triggered by the rollout this week of the state’s reopening plan, we have only a partial answer right now.

The state is still figuring out many of the details of its complex plan, and this is a perfect example.

First, Gov. Janet Mills explained generally that restaurants will be allowed to open first because they can more easily keep customers separated from each other by limiting how many people they serve and spreading out the tables. Bars can limit the number of people allowed in, but it’s not as simple to plant them six or 10 feet apart.

But, what about a business that is both things, like a pub or a restaurant that becomes a music club?

State officials are still trying to answer that one and find a way to delineate what is a restaurant and what is a bar, Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson said Wednesday.

“Certainly there is a lot of work to be done there on the individual specific components,” she said.

Q: Will the 14-day tourist quarantine really stay in effect all summer, or will it be lifted sooner as some people are saying?

A: Few elements of the plan are raising as many questions as the 14-day quarantine for people coming from out-of-state. That is largely because a huge portion of Maine’s economy relies on those visitors coming each summer, although the fear that they could bring the virus with them is also behind some of the questions.

Under the plan the governor unveiled Tuesday, the existing mandate of a 14-day quarantine for people entering the state will stay in effect through August.

However, state officials made clear both Tuesday and Wednesday that the time frame may change and that the state and the tourism industry are looking for less disruptive ways to prevent tourists from bringing the virus here with them. State officials have said they hope, but cannot promise, that the 14-day quarantine rule can be lifted earlier in the tourist season.

“The quarantine is what’s available to us today,” Johnson said. “We’re working on the science to find different solutions.”

“Our goal is to come up with more targeted, refined approach,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

State officials have not said what scientific breakthroughs might replace the quarantine mandate, although the availability of widespread testing for the illness and the antibodies might be one possible way to reduce the risks.

Of course, it is important to remember that state officials have warned that reopening phases also could be delayed if the virus spreads in Maine or if the state doesn’t adequately ramp up its capacity for testing and contact tracing. Continued widespread outbreaks in states such as Massachusetts and New York could also make it difficult for Maine to relax the quarantine mandate.

Q: How will the state enforce the 14-day quarantine?

A: Enforcement is already happening at the local level in communities that have seen an influx of out-of-state visitors.

Police in Wells, for example, have said they routinely talk to people who are out for a walk or a drive and remind people from away that they have to return to their vacation homes and stay there for the full 14 days, except for grocery shopping and other essential services.

Ultimately, violating any part of the state’s stay-at-home order can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, with the possibility of fines and jail time. That is considered an extreme measure, however, and most enforcement will start in the form of education, state and local officials say.

Q: What if a business that is allowed to open can’t meet all the safety requirements because it can’t get equipment like hand sanitizer?

A: “We acknowledge that’s a challenge,” Shah said Wednesday.

The state is trying to avoid setting up a competition between the medical industry and other businesses for protective equipment and supplies, so the checklists being prepared will likely have some alternatives, such as face coverings rather than medical-grade masks.

But, Shah said, businesses won’t be ready to open if they don’t meet the state’s guidelines. “A business that’s not able to satisfy each and every one of the criteria on the checklist should think twice about whether now is the right time to open,” he said.

Q: If a business can show that it can operate safely, can it reopen sooner?

A: “Absolutely,” said Johnson, the economic development commissioner. “We encourage people to reach out and work with us.”

You can reach the department through its website.

 

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