Gov. Janet Mills defended the initial reopening of Maine’s economy on Friday, but acknowledged deep conflicts over the steps the state has taken, as health officials reported two new deaths and 28 new cases of coronavirus.

Hair salons, car dealerships, golf courses and handful of other types of businesses that could take steps to protect customers and their employees were allowed to open Friday under the first stage of the four-part reopening Mills announced this week.

Speaking at an afternoon news briefing, the Democratic governor said her administration has been buffeted from two sides – by those who believe the state is moving too slowly to address the economic impacts of the pandemic and by those who believe it is acting recklessly, jeopardizing public health.

In defiance of state orders, a restaurant owner in Newry sparked controversy Thursday night when he announced on Fox News plans to reopen for dine-in customers.

On Friday, Sunday River Brewing Company owner Rick Savage told the Sun Journal that ‘it’s a dictatorship we have in the state right now” and that many tourism-related businesses will fold. Savage gave out Gov. Mills’ cellphone number live on Fox News to show host Tucker Carlson.

Mills said at the briefing that “some are engaging in partisan political chatter over this pandemic.” She cited the death toll in several Northeastern states, and pointed to the reporting of 1,000 new virus cases in the last 24 hours in Georgia, a state that moved quickly to reopen.

“This virus plays no favorites: it doesn’t care whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, a Green or an Independent, unregistered or unenrolled. It does not take political sides; it is an equal opportunity destroyer,”  Mills said.

When asked about the Newry brew pub and the lines out the door waiting for it to open at 4 p.m. on Friday, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said “I wish anyone who ventures out involved in those activities nothing but the best of health.”

New Hampshire, in the reopening plan it released Friday, said it will allow restaurants to serve customers in outdoor seating starting on May 18.

This week, Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said that the requirement that out-of-state visitors to Maine quarantine for 14 days through August is under review, as some in the tourism industry have criticized the Mills administration for “canceling summer.” Hundreds protested the Mills administration’s restrictions in Augusta on April 20.

“We have said from the beginning that our plan is a flexible document, that we are always open to constructive dialogue from all workers and businesses and members of the public,” said Mills, who did not take any questions from reporters. “I believe strongly that the vast majority of business owners in Maine share an unflagging commitment to keeping Maine people healthy. I ask them all to stay the course, continue talking, continue listening and continue being part of the solution.”

Shah said anyone visiting from out of state is required to quarantine wherever they are staying for 14 days – currently that order stays in place through the end of August.

“Our expectation and anticipation is any individual who arrives in Maine be in the position to fully quarantine themselves for 14 days,” Shah said, explaining that they should bring enough food and supplies to last them for two weeks.

The new COVID-19 cases reported Friday bring the total of confirmed cases to 1,123. Fifty-five Mainers have died during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The 28 new cases come two days after state health officials first reported outbreaks at a Bangor homeless shelter and a Portland meat processing plant. Friday was the first day of a limited reopening, with hair salons, auto dealerships, health care services and a few other businesses allowed to begin operating again. More restrictions will likely be lifted starting in June. Friday also was the first day that self-employed individuals could apply for unemployment.

The Maine CDC reported 657 Mainers have now recovered from COVID-19, an increase of 26 since Thursday.

Shah said on Thursday that 17 guests and four staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Hope House shelter in Bangor, with no new reported cases Friday. The agency has worked with Hope House to test all residents and staff, and is working with management at the Tyson Foods meat processing plant in Portland to conduct universal testing among the roughly 400 employees.

A total of 11 employees at the Tyson plant have tested positive for the disease in what is the largest outbreak at a non-health care or long-term care facility in Maine.

Shah said the Maine CDC is continuing to expand its contact tracing program, which tracks down close contacts of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and isolates them to prevent greater outbreaks. The number of contact tracers on staff has doubled from 15 to the 30, and is expected to increase to 60 employees.

Shah said absent a vaccine or effective treatment, the tools public health has to battle the virus are physical distancing and testing and tracing people. Ramping up testing and tracing is a way to control outbreaks and a path to easing physical distancing requirements.

“The intermediate step is to be more targeted and that’s what the test and trace idea is about,” said Shah, who acknowledged that more testing supplies are needed in Maine and across the country.

The number of active cases – calculated by subtracting recoveries and deaths from the case total – held steady at 411 on Friday and has generally been trending downward since reaching a peak of 446 cases on April 17. Public health experts agree that a decline in cases for at least two weeks is one of the most important criteria for determining whether it is safe to begin reopening the economy.

The number of active cases dropped to 389 on Wednesday but rose to 411 on Thursday, an increase of 22 cases driven in large part by the outbreak at the Bangor shelter.

The Maine CDC also is monitoring outbreaks among residents and staff at several nursing homes or long-term care facilities.

Thirty-seven Mainers were hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Friday. The state has 330 intensive care unit beds, with 171 available. Ventilator supply continues to be sufficient for current demand, with 316 ventilators, 290 available and 397 alternative ventilators.

Although confirmed case numbers and deaths continue to increase, the infection curve appears to have been flattening in recent weeks.

Shah said the actions taken by Maine so far have worked, but the restrictions on tourism are one strategy to prevent a resurgence. Massachusetts has 60 times the number of COVID-19 cases as Maine does, despite Massachusetts’ population being only about five times greater than Maine’s.

“Curves don’t flatten themselves, viruses don’t just disappear,” Shah said.

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