by Sarah Craighead Dedmon
Governor Janet Mills held a press conference yesterday announcing new, stricter measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Maine. Called the “Stay Healthy at Home” directive, the measure urges Mainers to self-isolate, extends the prohibition on classroom education until May 1, and puts specific headcount limitations on essential retail establishments like grocery stores and gas stations.
In Washington County where many businesses took protective steps and closed doors even before state mandates, many locals are asking, “What does this change for me?”
“The bottom line is — don’t be with a bunch of people,” said Washington County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald. “You can leave home for the reasons that were listed, so you can go to the grocery store, the doctor, the pharmacy. But otherwise, stay away from other people.”
Yesterday’s directive builds on an executive order issued March 14, which defines essential businesses to include grocery stores, hardware stores, convenience stores, medical facilities, and auto repair shops, among many others.
Maine's cases of COVID-19 more than doubled in the past week, from 155 on Thursday, March 26 to 344 on Wednesday, April 1. Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention also reports seven deaths and 80 recoveries.
Rep. Will Tuell (R-E.Machias) said the governor took "decisive action" with her stay-at-home order, and that it underscores the seriousness of COVID-19. "It is only intended to keep folks safe," said Tuell. "It is going to be a hardship for sure, and it is going to mean we have to change our way of life until we are through this, but I think if everyone uses a bit of common sense — you can still go get your groceries or go out to haul your traps, but it's really geared at keeping people at home as much as possible."
When it goes into effect on Thursday, April 2, the directive will also enact new limitations on essential retail businesses, requiring stores to monitor how many customers are in their building. Smaller facilities, like convenience stores, may have as many as five customers at one time. Midsize grocery stores between 25,000 and 50,000 square feet may contain up to 50 customers. The directive encourages people to maintain a distance of six feet or more at all times. In fact, the directive requires stores to mark every customer line with signage and floor lines designed to impose social distancing.
Due to high call volume, Hannaford's corporate headquarters was not immediately available to explain how these measures would be enacted in Washington County.
Last week the state shut down multiple state parks in southern and midcoast Maine, in part due to large crowds, such as a reported 3,000 people packing Popham Beach on one day. So many Downeasters are asking, "Can we still hike outside?"
“Absolutely!” said Fitzgerald. “Take a walk, walk on the beach, do those things, but don’t do them with a bunch of people. The people that live in the same house, you can take a walk with them.”
The official directive lists hiking, running, walking, fishing and biking as essential personal activities, but only if done in compliance with the social distancing restriction: keep more than six feet between you, and do not gather for recreation with people outside your own household.
All court-ordered travel, such as travel that moves children between parents’ homes, is permitted. Residents may not travel in cars with people outside of their own household unless they are transporting them for an essential service such as grocery shopping, or a medical visit.
Washington County Chief Deputy Michael Crabtree said that this new order is enforceable, but so was the March 14 directive.
“I think for the most part most everybody here is paying attention anyway,” said Crabtree. “They’re going out and only doing what has to be done and going back home.”
Though violations of the directive are a Class E violation and carry a fine, Crabtree urged residents to focus on using common sense and said his officers will also use common sense to determine whether a violation requires enforcement.
“We’re going to be mindful of everybody’s constitutional rights, and we’re going to do this just like everybody else,” said Crabtree, “the best we can.”
The full text of the executive order may be read here: https://www.maine.gov/governor/mills/news/governor-mills-issues-stay-healthy-home-mandate-2020-03-31.