AUGUSTA — Starting Tuesday night, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and other businesses where the public gathers — with the exception of takeout service — in the city are barred from being open to the public after 8 p.m.

Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo issued an emergency order around midday Tuesday, citing authority granted by Mayor David Rollins’s declaration of a state of emergency Monday. The order states no business where people gather in groups or are in close contact with one another may remain open past 8 p.m. They are allowed to reopen at 2 a.m. daily.

Bridgeo said he took the action after speaking with Rollins, city staff, local business representatives and municipal officials from surrounding communities, and out of concern for the growing spread of the coronavirus.

He said in his 40 years as a municipal manager this may be the most difficult, complicated times he’s experienced due to the virus.

“We’ve been following what’s going on, nationally, and in our state… and it seemed like we’ve reached the point where the most prudent thing to do for the safety of the residents of our community was to put some restrictions in place on public gathering,” Bridgeo said Tuesday. “I believe we’re just in the beginning of this. We’re just starting to appreciate how intense and serious this may all become.”

He said he is hopeful the state, specifically Gov. Janet Mills, will take broader statewide action restricting such activities and make uniform what other communities that have implemented similar restrictions including Portland and Waterville have done.

“I’m encouraging Gov. Mills to look at doing something similar to what communities like Bangor and Portland and Augusta and Waterville are doing through a statewide edict,” Bridgeo said. “That would help eliminate confusion.”

The city order states, in part, “COVID-19 is easily spread from person to person through close contact, and cases of the disease are increasing in the state of Maine. Whereas the president of the United States and the Center for Disease Control have urged the public to practice social distancing and not attend events where ten or more people will be gathered; and whereas the risk of community spread of COVID-19 seriously impacts the life, health and safety of the public, and public health is imperiled by the person-to-person spread of COVID-19.”

The ban does not apply to retail or grocery stores, just places where members of the public tend to gather.

Augusta’s code of ordinances allows the city manager to, among other things, “control ingress to and egress from a disaster area, the movement of persons within the area, and the occupancy of premises therin.”

Bridgeo, who is part Irish, said he was well aware Tuesday was St. Patrick’s Day, which he said made taking action promptly even more important because there would likely be a number of people out celebrating at bars, in groups.

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