AUGUSTA — Concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in Maine and Kennebec County have prompted the Augusta city manager to order all nonessential businesses, including those not open to the public, to close.

The order takes effect Friday at noon, and expands a previous city order banning bars and restaurants from serving customers in their businesses — and an order from Gov. Janet Mills requiring all nonessential businesses to close to the public.

City Manager William Bridgeo noted the order is not a “shelter in place” mandate and while the order suggests residents only leave their homes for essential activities, it does not ban them from leaving their homes for any reason, essential or otherwise.

“It’s not a shelter in place order but it gives that direction, that people should be doing this,” Police Chief Jared Mills said of the order. “It doesn’t say that you have to stay home, it gives some caveats of what you can go out for, how you can operate. This isn’t a lockdown, this is responsible, proven guidance for people to be part of the solution and space themselves out. The recommendation is to only go out unless you need to, when you need something.”

It requires nonessential businesses, even those that are not open to the public, to “close their physical workspaces and facilities to workers, customers, and the public.”

But, it does include multiple exceptions to that rule, including for cleaning, processing mail, obtaining necessary business supplies, completing payroll, depositing checks and paying vendors, as long as social distancing requirements are met while doing so.

The order does not apply to businesses deemed essential, with the list of such businesses similar to Gov. Mills’s order and allowing businesses to stay open. Businesses deemed essential include: Health care operations; grocery stores; farm and produce stands; food banks; convenience stores; stores selling household consumer products (such as cleaning and personal care products); food cultivation and processing (including farming and fishing); businesses and organizations that provide food, shelter, medical and social services to economically disadvantaged or homeless people; newspapers, radio and other media services; gas stations; auto supply, sales and repair stores; banks; hardware and building materials stores; home maintenance trades; mailing and shipping services; hotels; laundromats; businesses that manufacture or supply products needed for people to work from home (including computers); medical marijuana facilities; funeral homes; animal shelters; animal feed and pet supply stores; legal, accounting and title services; industrial manufacturing facilities; and several others.

People who have questions about whether their business is considered essential may contact Mills at the police station at 626-2370 or the Development Services office at 626-2365.

The order notes that as of Wednesday there were 155 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and six confirmed cases in Kennebec County and that, as the service center for the region and the county’s largest city, Augusta’s labor market, retail catchment and health care users includes a population of more than 125,000 people.

The order includes guidance such as that people outdoors, or those working in essential businesses, maintain at least 6 feet between themselves and others. It specifically notes that outdoor exercise and dog walking is permitted.

“We want people to stay healthy and go out and exercise, but don’t want them to congregate,” Mills said.

Violators of the order can be fined $500, but Mills said the city’s intent is not to fine anyone and officials will work with people and businesses to bring them into compliance and answer any questions they have.

Bridgeo, in a memo to city councilors, said the order has important recommendations for residents and visitors to the city about how to stay safe during the emergency which he hopes they will take to heart. And that the order encourages the many businesses allowed to remain open, which include restaurants for take out orders, to function in a manner that helps reduce the chances that COVID-19 will bring harm to vulnerable populations.

“I have struggled with these orders,” Bridgeo wrote. “But, guided by my conscience and decades of training in emergency management, I take these steps confident that I am acting in the best interests of my family, my friends and neighbors, my dedicated coworkers, my nine bosses and the community at large.”

The order is only effective until the April 2 Augusta City Council meeting at which, Bridgeo said, councilors may continue it, modify it or terminate it.

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