In preparation for the start of indoor dining, Ann MacAusland disinfects a table in the dining room at Duffy’s Tavern and Grill in Kennebunk on Monday. Restaurateurs and their patrons will have to navigate new ways to operate, with dining rooms open during the pandemic. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maine has reached a major milestone in its road back from the coronavirus shutdown, as restaurants in the state’s most populous counties can finally open their doors to in-person dining.

The good news follows positive trends. New cases of COVID-19 are being outpaced by recoveries in the state, and advances in testing give public health authorities confidence that this move can be made safely. This much-anticipated development will be a relief to small-business owners and their employees, who have been some of the hardest hit by the economic aftershock to the global pandemic.

But lifting this level of restriction will not be a return to the days before the coronavirus. Restaurateurs and their patrons will have to navigate new ways to operate in an environment where some of the old rules of hospitality no longer apply: Intimate, packed dining rooms, perfect perches for people-watching, will have to give way to socially distanced table layouts. Many restaurants will keep looking for new ways to make up for lost revenue, extending their takeout service for cocktails as well as meals and outside dining options.

As we cross this threshold, it’s important to remember that this is the beginning of the end – it’s not the end. Until there is a vaccine or dependable treatment, COVID-19 remains a highly contagious, deadly disease, and it needs to be approached with extreme caution.

LABOR SHORTAGE AT THE POLLS

With less than a month to go before Maine’s next election, voters should be getting ready for what promises to be a very different process.

Because of the procedures to slow the spread of coronavirus, longtime polling places will have to be closed, consolidated or moved to locations where they can operate safely. Maine’s biggest city, Portland, has been considering reducing the number of polling places from 11 to three in part because it cannot recruit enough poll workers to staff all of the usual sites. According to the city clerk, one third of election wardens say they do not feel safe at the polls, and a majority of election clerks are considered to be in a high-risk category for COVID-19 because they are over 65.

To ease pressure on these officials, every voter who can should get an absentee ballot, which can be returned by mail or dropped off at a municipal office right until Election Day. Voters can request an absentee ballot online or pick one up at their town office. Every vote cast this way will make it easier for those who work the polls and the voters who need to vote in person.

And all voters, especially young people, should consider signing up to help manage their local polling location this election and again in November. (Portland is hiring poll workers for $12 an hour and you don’t have to be a city resident.) It’s a great way to serve your community and help protect the people who have been keeping democracy alive in elections past.

DELIVERING FOOD TO THOSE IN NEED

A bright spot of the coronavirus pandemic has been the number of people who have stepped up to help others.

One such effort has been Brigade de Viveres, or the Food Brigade, run by volunteers Presente Maine, a Portland organization built to advocate for the needs of immigrant communities, especially those from Latin America.

But you don’t have to be an immigrant to receive food deliveries from the Food Brigade – you just need to ask for help, organizer Crystal Cron told Maine Public last week.

The goal is to help people avoid going out into dangerous settings just so they can feed their families. The group delivers boxes of staples, such as rice, dried beans and flour, directly to the recipients. They started out helping 50 families a week back in March, and with the work of 150 volunteers, the list has grown to around a thousand, Cron told the criminal justice journalism website The Appeal last month.

Cron said that the coronavirus did not create conditions of deep poverty, but it has made them harder to ignore. And, she told the Maine Public audience, that gives her reason to hope.


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