From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mills Administration has taken a tailored approach to business closures, recognizing the fundamental role that businesses play in the lives of Maine people and in driving economic activity. For example, rather than move to close businesses entirely, the Administration pursued a more fine-tuned and creative approach that closed the public-facing operations of businesses, but still allowed them to remain open to curbside pick-up or delivery so long as they minimized person-to-person interaction.
Meanwhile, the Administration also permitted a wider array of business sectors to continue operating, such as construction, when other states did not. As a result, Maine was ahead of many other states when it came to begin the reopening process. With the implementation of the Restarting Maine’s Economy plan, Maine has opened the majority of its economy.
The plan is a flexible document that is intended to be responsive to the on-the-ground situation in Maine as it changes. The Administration deployed COVID-19 Prevention Checklists, which were developed in close collaboration with different economic sectors and public health experts, that implement critical health and safety protocols that businesses must commit to follow in order to voluntarily reopen. The Administration has been regularly updating these throughout the reopening process, and has implemented new health precautions, such as the requirement that Maine people wear a face covering when physical distancing is not possible.
Further, throughout the opening process, Maine CDC has monitored epidemiological data, including case trends, hospitalization rates, and reports of COVID-like symptoms, as well as health care readiness and capacity, to inform decisions about the reopening. The Maine CDC posts on a daily basis several metrics, including:
- Number of influenza-like illnesses and COVID-like syndromic cases
- Number of documented cases and newly hospitalized patients; and
- Capacity of Maine’s hospital systems to treat all patients without crisis care and the ability of the state to engage in a robust testing program.
More recently, Maine CDC has daily posted the positivity rate, or percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 among all people whose test results are reported to Maine CDC. Expanded testing will likely lead to additional detection of already existing cases, even if the actual prevalence of the disease may be declining. Decisions also are based on population-adjusted statistics and comparisons to other states, testing capacity and contact tracing capacity, testing or treatment breakthroughs, and identification of new, safe ways of doing business.
Grounds for Setting or Changing Policy
Decisions to set and change the plan have been made with great deliberation, given that businesses have planned their own re-opening based on the original schedule and COVID-19 Prevention Checklists, as well as the fact that an increase in cases remains possible. The process is led by Departments of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Economic and Community Development (DECD), in consultation with Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Input is provided from other Departments, public officials, businesses, and experts.
Since its implementation, the plan has been adjusted several times based on COVID-19 trends and on-the-ground information. For example, the Administration has allowed the earlier reopening of some businesses in the rural counties with no evidence of community transmission of COVID-19 and has postponed the opening of other higher risk establishments when concerning data emerged in the scientific literature or among public health experts.
Pausing or Reversing Course
The more Maine’s economy reopens, the greater the risk of COVID-19 cases in Maine – and elsewhere – since neither a vaccine nor a cure exists at this time. This is especially true with expanded tourism. With few exceptions, visitors to Maine come from areas where the prevalence of this infectious disease is significantly higher than it is in Maine. Experience in other places where reopening has occurred earlier or at a greater pace than Maine’s shows increases in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Certain types of re-openings, such as indoor dining, pose greater risk than others, such as outdoor activity.
As such, if a review of these metrics in their totality and in context finds evidence of a concerning increase in COVID-19, the Administration may move swiftly to limit harm and protect Maine people. This includes the potential rollback of higher risk activities, such as indoor dining, or other sector-specific re-openings. It could also involve shutting down multiple sectors in a single community should the evidence suggest a serious, local public health threat.
The State will work closely with sector and municipal leaders to track trends and indicators of a rapid rise in infection in specific areas. It is important to note, however, that it may be epidemiologically challenging to tie any such case increase directly to a particular re-opening, such as indoor dining, given the parallel resumption of other economic and social activity. As stated previously, the Administration will consider the totality of evidence in making such a recommendation.
The Mills Administration is committed to protecting public health and is ready to take action to pause or reverse course if there is an imminent threat of COVID-19 resurgence. That said, Maine people, businesses, and visitors to date have proved up to the challenge of implementing measures to protect the public health. With this work and the guidance issued to date, Maine can be both safe and widely enjoyed by Maine residents and visitors alike.