The Mills administration scrapped plans Tuesday to allow gyms, fitness centers and nail salons to reopen on June 1 but will allow private campgrounds and RV parks to open for Maine residents in time for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
The changes to Maine’s reopening plan were announced on the same day that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 28 new coronavirus cases and three additional deaths among individuals with COVID-19. After adjusting for an earlier death no longer linked to COVID-19, the total number of deaths among individuals with the virus rose two to 73.
The altered reopening timelines for campgrounds and fitness centers highlight the fluidity of Gov. Janet Mills’ plan to revive the state’s ailing economy.
While private campground will be able to take some advantage — albeit with restrictions — of what is traditionally the busy opening weekend of the summer season, fitness centers and nail salons face a longer wait to fully reopen because of emerging research on outbreaks elsewhere. Fitness centers and gyms can currently offer smaller, outdoor classes as well as one-on-one personal training sessions indoors.
“This is a respiratory virus. It’s a virus that comes out of your lungs and gets transmitted through the air. And when you’ve got other people around you who are exercising and thus taking deep breaths in, it is postulated that possibility of transmission is greater,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “When we saw this data, we evaluated them against our current plans . . . this is an example of us following the data based on where it is taking us.”
Campgrounds had previously been scheduled to reopen no sooner than June 1, but worked with the state to develop safety as part of the accelerated reopening. On the other hand, state officials said studies raised concerns about the transmission of the virus in gym settings. Nail salons are a concern because California identified such establishments as a source of COVID-19 community transmission.
Mills administration officials said they will be monitoring the situation elsewhere and looking at research to decide on a new reopening timeframe for those businesses.
“We utilized the latest scientific research, leverage lessons learned on other states and best practices being developed nationally and locally in collaboration with businesses,” said Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. “‘We recognize the effects that restarting the economy has on business owners, employees and residents, but we believe these updates are in the best interest of Maine people.”
The total number of new confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in Maine climbed to 1,741, although the tally of Mainers with “active” cases of the disease decreased slightly from Monday, according to the latest figures from the Maine CDC.
To date, at least 73 individuals have died after contracting the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus. After accounting for those 73 deaths and the 1,088 people who have recovered from the disease, Maine CDC was reporting 580 active cases in the state. That is a decrease of nine cases from Monday.
Looking back over the past week, Maine has averaged 558 active cases of COVID-19 per day. By comparison, Maine was averaging 486 active cases daily during the previous seven-day period ending on May 12, showing the number of new cases continues to outpace recoveries or deaths, although health officials say expanded testing is also a major factor in the discovery of new cases.
Shah also provided an update on the status of several potential new outbreaks of COVID-19 in Maine, including clusters of cases at Bristol Seafood’s processing plant in Portland and at a Portland affordable housing complex.
New test results turned up eight additional cases at Bristol Seafood’s facility on the Portland Fish Pier, raising the total to 13. The company planned to keep the plant closed again on Tuesday for cleaning and sanitizing and is working with Maine CDC on further plans.
Additionally, Maine CDC epidemiologists continue to investigate cases at the 100 State Street housing complex that caters to senior citizens and individuals with disabilities. A representative for HallKeen Management, which manages the complex, said Monday evening that “fewer than 3 percent” of the roughly 215 residents had either tested positive for the virus or been exposed.
Shah said Maine CDC will offer testing to all residents of the complex. But because 100 State Street is an apartment complex, and not a licensed nursing home or other health care facility, Maine CDC is more limited in its ability to work with the facility to carry out universal testing, Shah said.
Meanwhile, the phased reopening of stores, restaurants and businesses in Maine continues to move forward.
On Monday, restaurants in 12 of Maine’s 16 counties were allowed to resume dine-in service as long as they complied with a checklist of health and safety guidelines aimed at reducing the risk of transmission. Even so, some restaurant owners opted to remain closed or to continue only providing take-out service.
Retail stores were allowed to reopen on May 11 in the 12 counties — Aroostook, Piscataquis, Washington, Hancock, Somerset, Franklin, Oxford, Kennebec, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc — if they also followed health and safety guidelines.
Most retail stores and restaurants in Cumberland, York, Androscoggin and Penobscot counties remain closed to in-store shopping or dining because Maine CDC epidemiologists have documented community transmission in the counties. Those businesses could reopen on June 1, however, under Gov. Janet Mills’ multi-phased plan.
This story will be updated.