Janet Mills orders Mainers to stay home through April

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AUGUSTA — Warning that “more people will die,” Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday ordered Mainers to stay home except to shop for necessities or to go to jobs deemed essential through April, putting Maine among a majority of states to take similar action to fight the coronavirus.


The Democratic governor has taken a step-by-step approach on actions limiting social contact since Maine announced its first confirmed case of the virus less than three weeks ago. She declared an emergency in mid-March and later banned dine-in restaurant service and social gatherings of more than 10. Last week, she closed public-facing nonessential businesses.


The order came on Tuesday, just after state health officials reported 303 cases and five deaths from the virus in Maine. It will be effective Thursday and places Maine among a group of 29 states that have issued stay-at-home orders, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.


“This virus will continue to sicken people across our state. Our cases will only grow, and more people will die,” Mills said at a news conference. “I say this to be direct, to be as honest with you as I can because saving lives will depend on us.”


Mills mandated that residents not leave their homes except for essential jobs or purchases. Businesses including grocery stores, pharmacies and health care providers will stay open. Portland and South Portland issued similar orders last week that include fines for if people caught violating the order. Bangor has also issued a type of stay-in-place order.


Mainers are allowed to leave their homes for exercise as long as they keep at least 6 feet from people outside their household. People can also travel to care for family members. The order also limits the use of public transportation for anything but essential purposes and limits vehicle travel to people in the same household.


Mills’ order also carried significant restrictions for stores allowed to remain open. Convenience stores must limit the number of customers in the store at one time to five. Grocery stores such as Hannaford must limit them to 75. Large stores including Walmart must limit them to 100 while installing protective shields between customers and clerks.


Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said Tuesday his department was working with the governor’s office as to whether it should extend Mills’ order to close nonessential businesses, which was set to expire next week but is now extended to be in line with Mills’ most recent order.


Shah said it was “almost inevitable” the virus would spread to every corner of the state. But he also said population density plays a part in the spread of the virus, echoing a previous statement earlier this month that “Maine is not Manhattan.” It referred to New York City’s status as an outbreak epicenter and a population in Manhattan that is 21 times denser than Portland.


Shah told reporters on Tuesday that “we have to keep compliance in mind” when considering such measures, and noted the state has not determined whether its social distancing recommendations are having an effect. He noted that research using cellphone data has shown Mainers are decreasing travel, though he didn’t endorse the methodology.

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