ELLSWORTH — Governor Janet Mills recently announced that Stage 4 of the Restarting Maine’s Economy plan would begin on Oct. 13, relaxing some restrictions on indoor seating for businesses and organizations but also making legal enforcement of face coverings statewide, not just in tourist-heavy areas.
The decision to roll out the Stage 4 reopening was informed by the rate of positive test cases, hospitalizations and the capacity of the state’s hospital system, according to the Governor’s press release, but the encroaching cold weather and accompanying closed windows influenced guidelines, too. So, while life is not back to normal, it may be easier to sit down in a restaurant or grab a beer.
The number of COVID-19 cases is on a slight uptick, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said in his Oct. 13 press briefing. But, public health precautions include mental health, he added, and also informed the Stage 4 reopening decision.
The increase of the number of people allowed to gather indoors “is a recognition of more people indoors and people wanting more social activity,” Shah said, quickly pointing out that restaurants — and bars, allowed to reopen Nov. 2 — won’t look the same as they did pre-pandemic, with tables spaced apart, “no milling around” and plastic barriers in place.
Currently, for every 100,000 people tested in Maine using the nasal swab test, 472 positive cases are reported, representing “a high marker for us on our COVID-19 journey,” for two reasons, Shah said. More people are being tested, but there are also greater levels of community transmission.
In Hancock County, Maine CDC reports 10.2 positive cases per 10,000 tests.
Shah said areas with increased mask use saw a corresponding decrease in cases, another reason behind the statewide enforcement of face coverings that is part of Stage 4: “Masks are the vehicle where we can resume more economic and social activities.”
Businesses must comply with the COVID-19 checklists issued by the Governor’s Office for specific sectors. Checklists for restaurants, bars and tasting rooms and businesses offering seasonal activities have been updated for Stage 4. (Read all COVID-19 checklists at https://www.maine.gov/decd/checklists.) And, with the indoor seating formula now using percentages instead of physical distance between tables, some establishments may find that the 50 percent capacity rule actually lowers their number of customers.
Social distancing, masks, hand-washing and simply staying home are still emphasized as important ways to contain COVID-19 in Maine communities. Shah also urged residents to get their flu shots and any other immunizations they have skipped during the pandemic.
Stage 4: What’s new:
- Indoor seating limit is increased to 50 percent capacity of permitted occupancy, or 100 people, whichever is less.
- The face covering mandate now covers private schools and local government buildings.
- Enforcement on the face covering mandate is now statewide, not just in coastal counties and bigger cities.
Stage 4: What’s the same:
- 50-person limit for non-seated indoor activities, such as gyms, fitness centers. indoor fairs or farmers markets.
- 100-person limit for outdoor gatherings.
- Five-person limit per 1,000 square feet of shopping area for retail businesses.
To report any businesses or organizations you feel are operating in violation of checklist requirements and endangering public health, visit https://appengine.egov.com/apps/me/non-compliance.