Maine Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order Tuesday that will move the state into Stage 4 of its reopening plan next week.
Mills announced that, beginning Oct. 13, indoor seating in restaurants, churches and movie theaters will increase to 50% capacity with a maximum of 100 people, providing coronavirus protocols are in place, like face coverings, enhanced cleaning practices and physical distancing measures.
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"With winter weather approaching, we must support businesses across the state as outdoor service becomes less viable and people move inside. This expanded capacity, along with continued health and safety precautions, is a prudent step forward that balances public health and economic health," Mills said in a statement.
While the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention reports the state leads the nation with the fewest hospitalizations, second-lowest new cases and fourth-lowest deaths, Mills said residents should not let their guard down.
"This virus is still very much with us all across the state and wearing a face covering, staying six feet apart, avoiding large gatherings, and washing our hands often is key to keeping Maine schools and businesses open and keeping Maine people healthy," Mills said.
Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of Health and Human Services, said the state being able to move to the next stage was made possible "by focusing on science and by the hard work and common sense of Maine people."
Some restaurants are encouraged by the move into the next phase.
"That's really good news. It's a step in the right direction," said Noah Talmatch, the owner of Timber Steakhouse in downtown Portland.
Other restaurant owners like Joe Christopher, who's businesses include Three Dollar Deweys on Commercial Street say that while they welcome the increased capacity, it may not be enough to prevent staff cuts if colder weather reduces demand for outdoor dining.
"Even with the 50 percent capacity, we'll end up laying off the people who've been working outside," Christopher said. "If we can get back to 100 percent inside, we'll have 100 percent employment."
For bars and tasting rooms to be able to reopen for indoor service Nov. 2, they must abide by the newly posted COVID-19 Prevention Checklist, Mills said.
At Fore River Brewing in South Portland, co-founder and owner John LeGassey said the brewery was looking at indoor expansion.
He said the brewery, which opened its outdoor tasting room in August, would be carefully following COVID-19 health procedures and guidelines before letting flights of beer fly inside.
"We're cautiously optimistic. There's a lot of work to be done," LeGassey said.
Gyms are still limited to 50 people and retailers have an occupancy limit of 5 people per 1,000 square feet of shopping space, according to Maine guidance.
While the state will be moving to Stage 4, Mills said masks would now be required in restaurants, hotels and retail businesses beyond coastal areas and big cities. She also said the same face-covering requirement would also apply at private schools and in local government buildings.