Maine is removing capacity limits and easing physical distancing restrictions ahead of what it hopes will be a busier summer tourist season this year.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said Thursday the state will lift all capacity limits and requirements to physically distance in outdoor settings starting May 24. That same day, the state will remove all capacity limits in public indoor venues.
Maine will also eliminate physical distancing requirements indoors, other than in settings in which people are eating or drinking such as restaurants and bars. The state is still calling for facial coverings to be worn in public indoor settings, officials said.
School-based protocols are expected to be updated at a later date.
Get New England news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NECN newsletters.
The changes will come ahead of Memorial Day weekend, which often marks the beginning of Maine’s tourism season. The changes will “continue to allow for additional capacity for businesses and non-profits to safely plan for a robust tourism season,” said Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.
“As we continue to make progress in vaccinating Maine people, it is appropriate to update our protocols ahead of schedule. While we are easing restrictions on capacity limits and physical distancing requirements in most instances, we are maintaining masks for indoor activities and distancing for when you can’t wear a mask, like when you're eating indoors,” Mills said. “This change aligns with the latest science and makes sense for Maine at this stage, with more people getting vaccinated. We will continuously review our protocols. The fact is the more people get vaccinated, the faster we will be able to get back to normal.”
Under Mills' "Moving Maine Forward Plan," indoor gathering capacity had been scheduled to increase to 75% and outdoor gathering capacity to 100% on May 24, with physical distancing still required. Mills lifted the requirement to wear a face covering outdoors on April 27.
Health officials continue to urge Mainers to get vaccinated, saying that's the best way to ensure that the state can continue reopening.
So far, more than 70% of Maine residents age 18 and older have received at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine. The state continues to lead the nation in the percentage of its population that is fully vaccinated.
"We are making important progress, but we must keep getting shots into arms to get this pandemic fully behind us," Mills said. "I urge all Maine people to get vaccinated so we can get back to normal as soon as possible."
Get the latest news on COVID-19 delivered to you. Click here to sign up for our coronavirus newsletter.
The governor also renewed the State of Civil Emergency on Thursday, which allows Maine to deploy all available tools to respond to and contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 352.14 new cases per day on April 26 to 278.14 new cases per day on May 10. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 1.43 deaths per day on April 26 to 1.00 deaths per day on May 10.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports there have been more than 64,000 positive cases of the virus and 798 deaths in Maine since the start of the pandemic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.