AUGUSTA — Governor Janet Mills outlined April 23 her vision for a gradual and safe reopening of Maine’s economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing four principles that will guide the State’s decision-making process and inviting Maine people to offer their ideas through a new portal launched by the Department of Economic and Community Development.
“While we all dream of going back to the way things were, we have to face the hard truth that the coronavirus continues to be a threat and that life will not return to normal soon. Instead, we have to invent a new normal — a different way of doing business, shopping, traveling, and recreating that keeps all of us safe,” said Governor Mills. “In the coming weeks, my Administration will continue to assess the impact of the coronavirus in Maine and engage with various sectors of the Maine economy to determine how they can safely reopen at the right time in the right way. This will be a gradual process to protect the health of Maine people while restarting our economy.”
Maine’s reopening will be driven first and foremost by public health considerations and guided by the following principles, according to a news release:
1. Protecting Public Health: The State will continue to continue to rely on epidemiological data, such as case trends, hospitalization rates, recoveries and deaths, to inform decisions with the private sector regarding the appropriateness of lifting restrictions.
2. Maintaining Health Care Readiness: Maine must maintain its capacity to respond to any surge of the virus. To that end, the State will continue to work closely with our hospitals and health systems to assess system capacity, including available hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators, and will continue to procure and distribute personal protective equipment as needed to hospitals, nursing facilities, emergency services, and other frontline responders.
3. Building Reliable and Accessible Testing: Testing capacity for all symptomatic people and sentinel disease surveillance are key elements of reopening various sectors of the economy. While the widespread availability of rapid testing remains a challenge, the State is actively seeking to expand testing to make it more accessible to Maine people.
4. Prioritizing Public-Private Collaboration: Collaboration and leadership among businesses, employees, government entities, and the public is vital to develop, implement, oversee, and adapt guidelines and safe practices. Government alone cannot fix things, government doesn't have all the answers; we need the best thinking of Maine people from every industry and every corner of the state to reimagine and reinvent how we do things in this state in a way that protects both lives and livelihoods.
More specifically, the Administration’s approach will utilize criteria and measures currently under development by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention leading to a phased reopening of the economy, the release noted.
In its planning, the Maine CDC will also develop measures to detect a resurgence in the virus that may necessitate the reimplementation of restrictions, per the release.
“Science continues to guide Maine’s strategy on COVID-19,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Ensuring the health and safety of Maine people, which includes taking steps to reduce the risk of a second surge of the virus, remains our priority.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) will solicit from representatives of industries and various sectors of Maine’s economy their ideas on how they can develop practical, reasonable, evidence-informed protocols that will allow them to safely resume operations or activities once the public health benchmarks are met.
“Since the Stay Healthy at Home Order was issued, the Department has worked in close partnership and collaboration with the public and private sector to provide the most transparent process possible,” said Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. “These have been challenging times for Maine’s economy and as we work to reopen the state it will take thoughtful collaboration to ensure that we effectively prioritize public health while reopening businesses sectors.”
DECD will work in close partnership with different economic sectors to analyze business practices, consider modifications to prioritize safety and security, and consult with public health experts to confirm that such modifications will be effective to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. These accommodations may be as simple as closing break rooms, providing flexible working hours, and installing plexiglass shields, or as complex as adjusting a business’ sales process to ensure employee and customer safety.
To that end, Governor Mills launched today a portal through the Department of Economic and Community Development to serve as an avenue for business owners, employees, and Maine residents to offer their ideas. The portal can be accessed at maine.gov/decd.
“We invite all Maine people to take part in the discussion,” said Governor Mills. “Give us your specific ideas on how we can do things differently, how we can restart the economy and keep all our people safe and healthy. We want to hear from you.”
The Governor cautioned, however, that decisions to reopen sectors of Maine’s economy will be driven by public health considerations and cautioned that moving too aggressively risks a surge of the virus.
“We all want life to return to normal as soon as it is safe to do so. Our hearts break to see closed storefronts and people struggling to make ends meet because of this crisis,” Governor Mills continued. “At the same time, we all know that reopening too soon and too aggressively is likely to cause a surge in COVID 19 cases, jeopardizing the lives of Maine people, overwhelming our healthcare system and further destabilizing the economy. None of us wants that.”
Governor Mills continues to work with Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Governor Phil Scott of Vermont, as well as other governors, on regional coordination in lifting restrictions so as to minimize interstate travel which could jeopardize public health.
The criteria under development by the Maine CDC will be issued in the next several days and the protocols developed by DECD in close collaboration with industry partners will also be made public when finalized.
The Governor’s Stay Healthy At Home Order remains in effect through April 30.