AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills mandated on Tuesday that all nonessential public-facing businesses close to the public for the next two weeks but stopped short of a statewide “stay at home” order.

“I hope we can avoid taking further steps, but it depends on our collective actions,” Mills said at a news conference.

Mills’ executive order, which runs through April 8, is a mandate of recommendations she had made last week and came on the same day the state’s largest city, Portland, issued a five-day stay-at-home order for all residents. Bangor and Brunswick passed similar orders, as have other states.

As of Tuesday, Maine reported 118 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, up from 107 on Monday. Among those, 15 people were hospitalized. Seven people have recovered. The virus has now spread to 10 Maine counties, including the first case in Waldo County.

“The next 15 days are critical (for) flattening that curve so Maine stays ahead of this thing as much as humanly possible,” Mills said.

State officials have processed 3,014 negative tests so far, but said approximately 1,300 tests were still pending.

“That number is unacceptable to us and we acknowledge that,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Three more commercial testing labs are now operating in Maine, in addition to two that already were up and running, Shah said Tuesday. The CDC’s lab and a lab run by MaineHealth also are processing tests, but Shah said there remains a shortage of supplies to conduct tests, particularly an essential chemical reagent.

Shah hopes the backlog is addressed soon, but he also cautioned, as he has for days, that the number of cases is certainly much higher than what is being reported.

“Given that what we are detecting in any outbreak is only the tip of the iceberg, now is the time to start taking public health action,” he said. “Even if you live in a county that is not listed, there is no reason to wait until your county is on the board.”

Mills’ order on mandated closures applies to such businesses as shopping malls, fitness centers, barbers, hair salons, tattoo parlors, nail salons and massage parlors. The executive order also orders the closure of nonessential businesses where more than 10 employees work in a space where “physical distancing” is not possible.

Those businesses would still be allowed to continue operations that do not require in-person contact with customers or gatherings.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday that while Maine has confirmed 118 coronavirus cases, “what we are detecting in any outbreak is only the tip of the iceberg.”  Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“Many businesses are already taking actions to protect their employees, customers and vendors. Adhering to the governor’s order will protect everyone’s health, the health of fellow citizens, the health of workers on the front lines, and the capabilities of our hospital systems to care for those in need,” Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “The sooner we take these actions to flatten the curve of COVID-19, the sooner we will get through this and Maine can get back to business.”

The new closure does not apply to grocery stores, medical offices, pharmacies, gas stations, post offices, banks, hardware stores, veterinary clinics, auto repair facilities, child care centers, laundromats, hotels and public transportation. But Mills urged those businesses to reduce the risk of disease transmission by limiting the number of customers in a store at any one time or to offer additional curbside or delivery service.

“I am recommending they do a lot better,” she said. “We must do better.”

Mills said businesses of more than 5,000 square feet should limit the number of customers to 100 and enhance curbside or delivery service. She also told customers to exercise caution.

“Do not go to the store because it feels like a good thing to do. Go to the store only when you really need something,” she said. “It’s not the time for discretionary shopping.”

As hospitals brace for an increase in cases, Shah said the state has continued to distribute personal protective equipment, or PPE, in a “fair and equitable manner.” He said 22,000 pieces of equipment went out Monday and another 16,000 pieces were being delivered Tuesday. Recipients include emergency medical service and law enforcement agencies and hospitals. Shah also said Maine has received its second shipment from the National Strategic Stockpile.

As of Tuesday, there were 77 ICU beds available statewide, along with 248 ventilators and 84 respiratory technicians. Shah said more would be needed in the coming days and weeks.

Mills addressed reports that some seasonal Maine residents or some visitors might be coming into the state.

“I cannot just close the borders of our state,” she said. “But for those people who may be subject to orders in other places and they believe they can escape that by coming here or escape the virus by coming here, they are wrong, because it is here. It is everywhere.”

“If you’re safe where you are, stay where are,” she added later.

Officials in southern Maine coastal towns raised the issue of out-of-state visitors coming to Maine following a sunny spring weekend that drew large crowds to area beaches, heightening concerns that such large gatherings could spread the coronavirus. York closed all its beaches on Monday, and Wells, Kittery and Ogunquit followed suit Tuesday, ordering the closure of their public beaches and parks. The closures will take effect Wednesday.

Mills also delayed on Tuesday enactment of the new ban on single-use plastic bags until Jan. 15, 2021, citing concerns over shoppers bringing reusable bags to grocery stores. The plastic bag ban was to have taken effect April 22 (Earth Day). Public health officials say shoppers should leave reusable bags at home because coronavirus can live on surfaces like those bags for hours and even days.

Mills said she has not made a decision about whether to shift the April 15 deadline for filing state income taxes and was conferring with other state governors. She declined to speculate on President Trump’s call to reopen the country by Easter. She also shared an anecdote about a friend whose 25-year-old, otherwise-healthy granddaughter had died from the virus.

Mills said in response to a question from a reporter that she has not been tested for coronavirus because she has shown no symptoms and has not come into contact with anyone who has tested positive.

In her executive order and in her remarks Tuesday, Mills stressed that she’s considering the interests of Mainers foremost in her decisions.

“The challenge mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is one we share with the rest of the world. The solutions we pursue must not be done simply because somebody else did it in another state or country,” she said. “The solutions must be right for Maine people.”

She also praised the people who have reached out asking how they can help.

“Everyone with a sewing machine wants to sew masks,” she said. “People are stepping up to the plate. I’m proud of Maine people.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.