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Maine to begin reopening; fall plan for schools is to come

April 28, 2020 GMT
Shops at the Freeport Village Station remain closed as the coronavirus shutdown of non-essential businesses continues, Tuesday, April 21, 2020, in Freeport, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Shops at the Freeport Village Station remain closed as the coronavirus shutdown of non-essential businesses continues, Tuesday, April 21, 2020, in Freeport, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine appears to be flattening the coronavirus curve and will begin reopening its economy in phases starting this week, state leaders said Tuesday.

Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, said the state will extend its broad stay-at-home order until May 31 but also begin lifting restrictions Friday.

Friday will mark the beginning of a reopening schedule that is more ambitious than most of the rest of the Northeast. Mills said the state is also working on a plan for students to return to schools in the fall.

The first stage of the reopening will allow residents to access personal services, such as barber shops and drive-in religious services, Mills said. Later phases, scheduled to take place over the course of the summer, will reopen restaurants, hotels, summer camps and bars, she said.

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Mills and Maine CDC director Nirav Shah said the state must be cautious with the reopening because of the possibility of resurgence of COVID-19. The state has had more than 1,000 cases of the disease caused by the virus and 51 deaths.

“We are trending in the right direction right now, but there is the possibility we could go back and have another spike,” Shah said.

Mills said that the second phase of the reopening is scheduled for June 1, and that the third is slated for July 1. The fourth and final stage, which could allow all businesses and activities to resume, has not been scheduled.

City officials in Portland, the state’s largest city, on Tuesday extended a municipal stay-at-home order until May 18. The city also announced that employees of all businesses must wear face coverings in the workplace starting Thursday.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover.

In other virus-related developments:

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UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE

The Maine Department of Labor announced it would start accepting applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance on Friday.

It is a new federal program that expands eligibility for unemployment benefits to new categories of workers, including self-employed people, farmers and fishermen.

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TOWN DATA

The Maine Freedom of Information Coalition is pressing the state CDC to release town-by-town data on infections and deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

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Breaking down the cases by towns, not just by counties, is in the interest of public health because it would allow the public to better prepare and take precautions, board member Sigmund Schutz said.

Maine became the only state in New England that doesn’t provide that level of detail when Vermont began releasing town-by-town data on Monday.

Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long defended the status quo, saying detailed data could compromise patient privacy, “which ethically must still be protected even in the face of a pandemic.”

The agency might consider relaxing those rules in the future, he said. For now, he said, “All Maine people should assume that COVID-19 is present in their communities and take the proper precautions,” he said.

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