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COVID-19 Alert: State of Maine and City of Portland Issue Orders to Close Non-essential Businesses; Utility Services to Continue

On Tuesday March 24, 2020, both the City of Portland and the State of Maine issued comprehensive new limitations on business establishments in order to further limit the spread of the coronavirus. Both actions were aimed at limiting the operation of non-essential business and government operations, and continuing to encourage social distancing. Both orders exempted utility operations.

State of Maine Issues Executive Order to Close Public-Facing, Non-essential Businesses

During the early afternoon of March 24th, Maine Governor Janet Mills held a press conference where she announced an emergency order to temporarily close the physical locations of public-facing, non-essential businesses. The order becomes effective at 12AM on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 and continues until April 8, 2020, unless modified. A press release announcing the executive order can be found here.

Essential businesses covered by the order include a wide range of establishments, including all utilities – electricity, water, wastewater, and telecommunications. The actual text of the order is available here, and highlights the following essential businesses:

1. Identified by the United States Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response dated March 19, 2020. A copy thereof is attached and incorporated herein by this reference; and

2. In addition or for clarity here in Maine, include the following:food processing and agriculture; fishing and aquaculture; industrial manufacturing; construction and maintenance of essential infrastructure; trash collection and transfer stations; grocery and household goods (including convenience stores); forest products; essential home repair, hardware and auto repair; pharmacy and other medical, psychiatric, and long-term care facilities; group homes and residential treatment facilities; biomedical, life science, behavioral health, health care, dental care, and long-term services and supports providers and organizations; child care providers; post offices and shipping outlets; banks and credit unions; gas stations and laundromats; veterinary clinics, animal welfare and animal feed and supply stores; truck delivery and distribution of goods; public transportation;legal, business, professional, environmental permitting and insurance services; hotel and commercial lodging; and all utilities such as electricity, water, wastewater, and telecommunications.

For business sites not designated as “essential,” they must cease operations at locations which are (1) “public facing,” or (2) at sites which require more than 10 workers to convene in spaces where social distancing is not possible. Business locations may continue at locations which do not allow customer, vendor, or in-person contact; do not require more than 10 workers to convene in a space that does not allow social distancing; and are facilitated “to the maximum extent practicable” by employees working remotely.

All business, whether essential or non-essential, were further urged to make best efforts to implement and actively enforce social distancing requirements in and around their facilities. This includes maintaining 6-feet distancing for workers and customers, and promoting remote employment. The order included recommendations that appear geared toward big box and other retail establishments, including recommendations to designate waiting areas for customers to allow social distancing, making hand sanitizer available, implementing separate operating hours for elderly and vulnerable customers, and posting operating hours online.

City of Portland Issues “Stay at Home” Order

Less than an hour after Governor Mills issued her executive order, the City of Portland issued its own “stay at home” order that goes a step further than the Governor’s order. The order was jointly announced at a press conference held by Portland Mayor Kate Snyder and Portland City Manager Jon Jennings. The full text of the order is available here. The press release is available here.

The order goes into effect at 5PM on Wednesday March 25, 2020 and remains in effect for five days, unless extended by the Portland City Council.

The City’s order includes two major elements. First, it asks residents to stay home, other than for activities such as food shopping, outdoor exercise and walking, going to essential businesses, and several other exceptions. Residents were further encouraged to continue social distancing practices.

Second, the City’s directive calls for the temporary closure of any “brick and mortar” business with a location in Portland that is not deemed “essential.” Notably, the City’s list is shorter and more general than the list of essential businesses provided by the State, but the basic intent is similar. Also like the State’s Order, the City’s list of essential businesses includes essential services like water and wastewater, electricity, natural gas, and telecommunications. Business not considered essential are required to close their brick and mortar facilities to workers, customers, and the public, but workers may access the facility for essential business functions.

Stay tuned for more developments as Maine continues its efforts to confront the spread of COVID-19.
Topics: Utilities