Commentary

Gov. Mills’ multi-phase ‘recovery’ plan is a blueprint for a prolonged economic depression

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Governor Mills unveiled her multi-phase plan for slowly reopening the Maine economy on Tuesday during a press conference with Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Nirav Shah and the commissioners of Maine’s departments of labor and economic and community development. The plan includes extending the duration of her stay at home order until May 31 while lifting restrictions on some activities “deemed safe” by the administration.

The multi-phase plan that extends into August would enable certain businesses to gradually reopen their doors to the public under new health and safety criteria, some of which has not yet been disclosed by the Mills administration.

The first stage of Governor Mills’ plan starts on May 1 and continues the prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 people and the 14-day quarantine for out-of-staters traveling to Maine. In addition, phase one implements a new requirement that Maine people wear some type of “cloth face coverings in public settings where physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” Guidance on what constitutes a cloth face covering will be released at a later date, according to the governor.

The types of businesses and services allowed to begin operating again under phase one include health care from Maine-licensed providers, personal services like barber shops and hair salons, drive-in or stay-in-your-vehicle religious services, drive-in theaters, guided outdoor recreation activities, restricted use of golf and disc golf courses, auto dealerships, car washes, and state parks and other state-owned land with the exception of some coastal sites.

The second stage of the governor’s plan, slated to start June 1, considers altering the limitation on gatherings to 50 people and maintains the 14-day quarantine for people entering or returning to Maine from other states. More businesses would be allowed to open with reservations, capacity limits and other safety measures, including restaurants, fitness and exercise centers, nail technicians, retail stores, lodging and campgrounds for Maine residents and out-of-staters who have completed their 14-day quarantine and coastal state parks.

Phase three (July and August) calls for reviewing the prohibition on gatherings of more than 50 people and the 14-day quarantine requirement. Under this phase, the state would allow for “some degree of opening” for hotels, campgrounds, summer camps and RV parks, outdoor recreation such as charter boats, bars and personal services such as spas, tattoo parlors and massage facilities.

The fourth and final stage, of which a timeline is undetermined, would review all existing rules and regulations adopted to date and allow businesses and other activities to resume under existing safety precautions. The Mills administration does not expect it to be safe to accept cruise or commercial passenger ships with more than 50 people during the summer of 2020.

For businesses to reopen, Mills says they must work with the Department of Economic and Community Development to implement practical safety protocols to protect employees and consumers and reduce the spread of the virus. It’s unclear why businesses cannot immediately begin working with DECD to accomplish this goal and start reopening.   

The plan also establishes what I like to call the sanitation police, a new government process for permitting businesses to reopen. State government is going to establish “COVID-19 Prevention Checklists” for different sectors of the economy. Once the checklists are established and public health officials give the green light to move forward, “business that commit to complying with the requirements on the checklist will be provided a badge to post on their business door or website, their names will also be posted on the DECD website and they will be allowed to open.”

In other words, businesses will have to prove they pass muster because they cannot possibly be trusted to protect the health and safety of their employees and patrons – only a big unwieldy government can do that.

Last week, the governor drew scrutiny after putting forth broad guidelines for reopening without proposing a concrete plan or timeline. Along with her guidelines came the establishment of a new public comment portal on the DECD website where businesses and concerned citizens were invited to share their feedback on how to reopen Maine.

While stating that more than 1,600 individuals and businesses utilized the portal, Governor Mills divulged little information about what type of comments were submitted or how these comments factored into her administration’s reopening plan.

After saying for several weeks her administration would use a science-based approach to reopening, it’s clear the governor and her team grouped entire sectors of the economy together with no consideration of their individual circumstances, and then set arbitrary dates for their phased reopening.

The governor’s proposal is not a four-step economic recovery plan, but rather a blueprint for a prolonged economic depression.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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