Legislative Alert: Governor Janet Mills' Stage 4 Announcement
Governor Janet Mills announced Tuesday afternoon that Maine will enter Stage 4 of its four-stage Restarting Maine’s Economy Plan on October 13, 2020. Stage 4 will allow for increased indoor capacity during the winter months for certain activities as well as requiring broader enforcement of Maine’s face covering mandate. Maine has been operating under Stage 3 of the Plan since July 1, 2020.
As outlined in the Governor’s latest Executive Order, limits on indoor seating will increase to 50 percent of permitted occupancy of that facility, up to a maximum of 100 people, for businesses and organizations that serve people through seated activities. Examples of such activities and facilities include indoor dining, religious gatherings, school cafeterias, and movie theaters. Because of Maine’s high marks nationally on key metrics for COVID-19 response, including low hospitalizations, new cases, and deaths, Maine’s CDC advised that the state’s indoor gathering limits could be increased safely.
Even with the increase of allowed customers, essential public health measures such as enhanced cleaning practices and physical distancing must continue. COVID-19 Checklists for these businesses and organizations have been updated and are available on the Department of Economic and Community Development’s website (https://www.maine.gov/decd/covid-19-prevention-checklists).
During Tuesday’s announcement, Governor Mills indicated the adjustment to the seating capacity stems from working collaboratively with the Portland Regional, Lewiston-Auburn Metropolitan, and Bangor Region Chambers of Commerce, as well as the Visit Portland and Visit Bangor Regional Convention and Visitor Bureaus. These organizations received overwhelming feedback from their restaurant members that they be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity, especially heading into colder months when it is difficult to provide outdoor dining venues.
The latest Executive Order further broadens the State’s face mask mandate by requiring that additional entities, such as private schools and municipalities, ensure employees and people in their buildings adhere to wearing appropriate cloth face coverings. Such facial coverings must be worn in publicly accessible portions of government facilities; publicly accessible portions of retail, commercial, and certain other establishments; and schools and childcare settings. Exceptions are allowed for those under the age of 2, during vigorous exercise, those with certain medical or breathing conditions, and persons with developmental conditions that are irritated by a face covering. Enforcement of the face covering mandate, which was limited to Maine’s coastal counties and larger communities during the summer, will now be statewide. Businesses that violate the Governor’s Executive Orders are subject to enforcement, which could include possible fines and loss of licenses.
It is important to note that no adjustments have been made to the 50-person capacity limits for non-seated indoor activities, such as physical activity in gyms. The outdoor gathering limit also remains at 100 people. Occupancy limits for retail establishments also remains at 5 people per 1,000 square feet of shopping space.
One final component of Stage 4 allows indoor service for bars and tasting rooms to resume beginning Monday, November 2, 2020. In addition to the indoor seating limitations noted above, these establishments must abide by the newly-posted COVID-19 Prevention Checklist for seated food and drink service, which is an update to the restaurant checklist.
During Wednesday afternoon’s “DECD Update with Commissioner Johnson,” the Commissioner reaffirmed that the guidance announced by the Governor is just the beginning of what will be allowed under Stage 4. Additional activities such as skiing and changes to fitness centers are currently being reviewed.
A press release issued by the administration provides additional information about Stage 4 as well as comments from Governor Janet Mills, Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner Heather Johnson, and Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah. DECD has also posted Maine’s 2020 Winter Capacity FAQs on its website.