Gov. Janet Mills announced on Friday a rural reopening plan that will allow many businesses to open earlier in counties with no community transmission of COVID-19.

The counties involved include Aroostook, Piscataquis, Washington, Hancock, Somerset, Franklin, Oxford, Kennebec, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, and Sagadahoc.

Retail stores in those 12 counties will be allowed to open on Monday, May 11, provided they adhere to enhanced safety precautions. The safety guidelines, outlined in a state checklist, include restricting the number of customers in a store at one time, enhanced cleaning practices, and touch-free transactions whenever possible, among other requirements.

Restaurants in those 12 counties will be allowed to open on Monday, May 18 with added health and safety precautions, including physically distancing customers, enhanced hygiene and sanitation practices, and controlling the customer flow by using reservations whenever possible. These two dates/openings coincide with those in New Hampshire.

Remote campsites, as well as sporting camps will be permitted to open with public health safeguards in these same counties on May 18, 2020 to Maine residents or people from out of state who have completed a 14-day quarantine. This will open up access to recreational activities like canoeing, hiking, hunting, and fishing.

Mills said just because businesses in these categories in those 12 counties can open, it doesn't mean they are required to do so. Nor does it mean that employees who are feeling unsafe are required to go back to work. In addition, municipalities can adopt additional public health measures related to reopening of businesses within their jurisdiction.

The order does not apply to the four counties -- Penobscot, Androscoggin, Cumberland and York -- where community transmission of the disease has been found.

As of Thursday, May 7, Maine ranked sixth lowest in the nation in terms of positive cases, 36th in the nation in terms of deaths, 27th in terms of patients ever-hospitalized out of the 32 states reporting, and 10th in the percentage of people who have recovered out of the 38 state reporting.

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