Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As you may know, Gov. Mills has announced a phased approach to reopening the economy. It is a several-months long approach to getting Mainers back to work. It is a plan that the Governor, along with medical experts and business leaders, will assess and change as needed based on the latest science. If there is a spike in COVID-19 cases, these stages could be delayed or altered.
With consistently lower numbers of new COVID-19 cases being recorded, Maine appears to be successfully flattening the curve. We are certainly not out of the woods yet, but we are able to start lifting and loosening some of our state’s pandemic response protocols.
On Friday, May 1, the “Stay Healthy at Home” order will be replaced with a “Stay Safer at Home” order. That order includes a four-stage strategy for “Restarting Maine’s Economy.” The stages focus not on “essential” versus “non-essential” business designations like those used to originally limit commercial operations and activities, but on the ability of a business to operate or an activity to occur in a manner that protects public health and safety.
As the Administration gradually eases restrictions on some businesses and activities, protective protocols will also be implemented. Stage 1 will take place in May, and we anticipate Stage 2 to take place in June, Stage 3 in July and August, and Stage 4 is yet to be determined. Of course, all of these timelines may be subject to change should the public health situation require it. You can read a detailed version of the plan at this website, and I have included critical details of Stage 1 below, which begins this Friday
I know that seeing a timeline that includes some restrictions remaining in place until fall is difficult to process. But it is because of our state’s detailed response to COVID-19 and our collaborative adherence to each mandate that Maine has experienced lower pandemic numbers than other states of similar size and population density. We have kept each other safe, and if we keep fighting this virus together, we can get our economy through this, too.
From many contacts over the past few days, because of the importance of tourism to our communities, I know that many of you are concerned about the protocols of how out-of-state tourists are allowed back this summer.
On one hand, I have heard worries that the plan to reopen tourism businesses will jeopardize our health and set back the hard effort of social distancing that has proved to keep us each remarkably safe for the last two months.
On the other hand, I have heard from many business owners who are understandably fearful that restricting tourism with lengthy quarantines will devastate many hard-earned livelihoods and cause long-term economic damage.
What no one wants is for our region suddenly to become the next New England hot spot of contagion and join the cruise ship industry as a ruined brand. We know we can not have a successful tourist season sharing the same streets as mounting COVID infections But I remain hopeful that through more testing and better mapping of this pandemic we can find practical, well-regulated ways to prevent its spread which don’t require unrealistic long and arbitrary quarantines for healthy visitors. At yesterday’s briefing, CDC Director Dr. Shah described the state seeking “a more targeted, refined approach” in parallel to a 14-day quarantine. I support that effort. And in no way should our state contemplate a route more accelerated or less protective than the White House’s own criteria.
I’m sure there are a lot of questions about how these stages will unfold. I will do my best to provide more details and to keep you updated on changes, but please also reach out to me directly with any questions or concerns you have. I also know that many of us will need help navigating these changing circumstances, and I am here to provide that to you in any way I can.
NEW COVID-19 PROTOCOLS BEGIN MAY 1
Stage 1 of “Restarting Maine’s Economy” begins on May 1 and continues the prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 people as well as the quarantine of all people entering Maine for a period of 14 days. All businesses that have been open may remain open. At-risk people should stay home when possible. In addition:
- If employees are able to work from home, they should continue to do so. This includes State of Maine employees.
- Professional services, such as legal services, should continue to be done remotely.
- Construction firms should deploy additional Personal Protective Equipment and other safety measures on job sites.
Also beginning May 1, the following businesses may reopen after completing a checklist and receiving a badge signifying they may operate (checklists will be posted on this website when ready):
- Health care from Maine-licensed providers (while following a number of recommendations and guidelines)
- Personal services: Barber shops, hair salons and pet grooming
- Limited drive-in, stay-in-your-vehicle religious services
- Drive-in movie theaters
- Outdoor recreation: guided outdoor activities (hunting and fishing) and restricted use of golf and disc golf courses
- State parks, state-owned public land trails and historic sites; although certain coastal state parks will remain closed
- Auto dealerships and car washes
UNEMPLOYMENT ELIGIBILITY EXPANDS MAY 1
Starting Friday, May 1, self-employed workers, farmers and fishermen, independent contractors, gig economy workers and more will now be able to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) through the Maine Department of Labor (MDOL). The best way to apply is online at reemployme.maine.gov. If you do not have access to the internet or are having trouble online, you can file over the phone at 1-800-593-7660 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. To help manage the many claims coming in, the MDOL has an alphabetical-by-last-name call schedule. Call on Mondays if your last name begins with A-H; Tuesday for I-Q; Wednesday for R-Z and anyone on Thursdays and Fridays.
THE JULY ELECTION
To ensure that we have adequate time to plan for the primary election and that Mainers receive safe, equal access to vote, Gov. Mills moved the date of our spring primary election from June 9 to July 14. As the Secretary of State’s office develops guidelines to help municipalities execute the election in as safe a manner as possible, an easy way to ensure you cast your vote safely is to request an absentee ballot, visit this link to do so today.
FREQUENTLY USED RESOURCES
As always, here are some resources to help with the most common COVID-19 problems Mainers are facing:
- A statewide COVID-19 response website that includes a directory of how each Maine agency is responding, as well as resources for health care, small businesses, education, family care and more.
- A website outlining Maine’s approach to restarting the economy.
- A COVID-19 Rent Relief Program which allows households that meet certain criteria to receive a one-time, up to $500 payment in rental assistance to be paid directly to their landlord.
- A Maine Department of Labor factsheet and COVID-19 webpage to help navigate unemployment insurance benefits.
- A compilation of resources, updates and help created by Maine Equal Justice for Mainers trying to manage health care, food security, evictions, court proceedings and other issues during this time.
- The website for small businesses to apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans through the US Small Business Administration.
- Detailed information on the FAME COVID-19 Consumer Loan Guarantee Program offering low-or-no interest loans to qualifying applicants.
- An online application for businesses that believe they should be classified as essential under Gov. Mills’ March 24 Executive Order.
- A resource to get answers any time by dialing 211 (or 1-866-811-5695), texting your ZIP code to 898-211 or emailing email@example.com.
Please take a look at this page I’ve put together compiling a number of links to federal, state and local resources all in one place. Hopefully it will help point you in the right direction as we all navigate this pandemic together.
Additionally, below are specific COVID-19 sites for each of the towns in our district: