AUGUSTA — Mainers joined the rest of New England and more than a billion others around the world as Governor Janet Mills announced in a press conference on Tuesday that she would order residents to “stay healthy at home” beginning at 12:01 a.m. Thursday in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus. The news came as the state recorded its fifth virus-related death and cases topped 300.
“These are times when extraordinary actions are required,” Mills said. “Today I am taking the most aggressive action yet.”
The order restricts movement until at least April 30, although the Governor has broad discretion to shorten or lengthen the timeline depending on the situation. The order also closes schools to in-person instruction until at least May 1. Mills is also asking that any resident coming from out of state to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Mills said she can’t simply “close the state’s border, or pull up the New Hampshire bridge, as some people have suggested.” She added: “For those people who come to Maine, however, my message is clear, you cannot escape the virus by coming here. And while you are here, you are obviously subject to the laws, protocols and orders of the state of Maine. Our health facilities may soon be overcrowded or overwhelmed. If you get sick or if you are sick, treatment may be scarce or even unavailable to you.”
While the restrictions are in place, residents will only be able to leave their homes for “essential personal activities” such as grocery shopping, obtaining medical care or medication, walking a pet, exercising (while staying 6 feet apart), providing care to another person or livestock or commuting to and from work for an essential job. The order also requires residents not to use public transportation unless for an essential reason and mandates that passengers in private vehicles be limited to immediate household members unless for essential activities.
“We are in the midst of one of the greatest public health crises that this world has seen in more than a century,” Mills said Tuesday. “The virus will continue to sicken people across our state; our cases will only grow, and more people will die. I say this just to be direct, to be as honest as I can with you as I can. Because saving lives will depend on all of us.”
The order also includes regulations for essential businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations and convenience stores, limiting the number of customers that can be in the store at any one time, and mandates that staff enforce social distancing requirements.
Gun shops are now among 22 types of retail operations that can remain open in Maine. Other retail operations that qualify as essential include: automobile repair, bicycle repair, medical marijuana dispensaries, boat builders, restaurants and bars offering curbside pickup and delivery; greenhouses, fishing supply and bait shops, and pharmacy and medical supply stores, according to the Portland Press Herald.
Larger retailers, such as Walmart and Home Depot, will be required to install protective shields between customers and checkout clerks “as soon as practicable.”
There are not yet any plans to give personal protective equipment (PPE), which has been in short supply, to frontline non-medical workers such as grocery store clerks and gas station attendants. A gas station attendant at a Freshies location in Winterport recently tested positive, according to a Facebook post, and Hannaford has confirmed that two associates have also come down with the virus, according to WGME.
“We’re distributing PPE initially to health-care professionals,” Mills said. “We need to protect them and their families and first responders.”
“Although masks can be effective in different settings,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, the plexiglass shields in larger stores “would be a very effective barrier in that situation.”
Violations of the stay-at-home order are a Class E crime subject to up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. “I’m not ordering that we live in a police state,” said Mills, when asked how law enforcement would enforce the order and whether Maine would eventually go the route of states such as Rhode Island, whose troopers have been pulling over cars with out-of-state plates.
“It is the Governor’s hope that compliance will be voluntary, and that formal enforcement will not be necessary,” Mills said in a statement.
“We stay apart now so that sooner, rather than later, we will all be together.”