(The Center Square) – Phase one of Maine’s reopening plan begins Friday with new restrictions under Gov. Janet Mills “Stay Safer at Home” executive order.
Barbershops, hair salons, auto dealership and drive-thru religious services are permitted but residents are required to wear cloth face coverings in areas where social distancing may be hard to maintain.
“As our State begins to ease some restrictions as part of the plan to gradually and safely restart the economy, it is important for Maine people to also take individual precautions to prevent the spread of the virus,” Mills said. “By wearing a cloth face covering, you are taking an important step in protecting others, and when others wear them, they are taking an important step in protecting you.”
The executive order requires Maine residents to stay home except for the permitted activities, grocery shopping and exercising.
The stay-at-home order has led to business closures and layoff. Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said in a news conference on Thursday that 7,400 additional unemployment claims were filed this week. The state has paid more than $200 million in benefits to 70,000 Maine residents since March 15.
Applications will be accepted for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance on Friday, Fortman said. The program covers people who are self-employed or not eligible for traditional unemployment programs. Applications will not have to prove income initially but will be asked to provide it later.
“I made this decision to get money in your pocket faster,” Fortman said.
The federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation is not yet available. The program extends unemployment benefits to residents beyond the 13 weeks. Once the program is approved, the benefits will be paid retroactively, Fortman said.
The number of COVID-19 cases appear to be flattening, Mills said. Thirty-nine additional positive tests were reported Thursday and the state’s total is now at 1,095, according to Dr. Nirav Shah, executive director of the Main Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fifty-three deaths are related to the virus, including a new one reported Thursday.
Thirty-five people are currently in the hospital, 18 of them in intensive care units, Shah said. Eight of those hospitalized are on ventilators. The state has 286 out of 313 traditional ventilators available and another 397 alternative ventilators, Shah said.
“But we are not out of the woods yet,” Mills said, saying the reopening plan, “allows us to gradually restart our economy, allows us to do the same things we have been doing over the past month, and maintains the important public health measures that have protected us thus far.”
Phase one of the plan continues until May 31. Phase two begins June 1 and allows restaurants, fitness centers, nail technicians, retailers, day camps and Coastal State parks.