Coronavirus

Bipartisan pair of lawmakers call for a more expansive rural reopening

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A bipartisan pair of lawmakers representing rural towns in Androscoggin and Cumberland counties sent a letter to Governor Janet Mills this week urging her to allow rural areas of the state to reopen more quickly.

Rep. Amy Arata (R-New Gloucester) and Sen. Ned Claxton (D-Androscoggin), who represent the towns of New Gloucester and Poland, asked the governor to consider a partial reopening of businesses in rural towns in counties that are still restricted from reopening.

Governor Mills released her initial plan to reopen Maine’s economy in late April. The plan came under heavy fire from businesses across the state, particularly hospitality and tourism-related interests worried about the effects of her requirement that people returning or traveling to Maine from other states quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival.

She later revised that plan with a new “Rural Reopening Plan” that allows some businesses to reopen more quickly in counties where community transmission of the virus does not exist. The only counties excluded from the rural reopening plan are Androscoggin, Cumberland, Penobscot and York counties, where the Maine CDC has identified the presence of community transmission of COVID-19.

The letter crafted by Rep. Arata and Sen. Claxton asks Gov. Mills to allow rural towns in counties where community transmission is present to reopen more quickly. Maine remains the only state in New England that is not reporting town-level data of confirmed COVID-19 cases, therefore it is unknown how much New Gloucester and Poland are contributing to the countywide totals for Cumberland and Androscoggin counties, respectively.

The full letter to Governor Mills can be read here:

As legislators who have educational backgrounds in science, we appreciate that you responded to improvements in several COVID-19 metrics by allowing the partial opening of businesses in rural counties.  We ask that you apply the same flexibility to rural towns in the counties that are still restricted and allow them to participate in the rural reopening plan.

The rural towns that we represent, New Gloucester and Poland, have low population densities similar to rural counties and should not be lumped together with highly populated cities like Portland and Lewiston, where community transmission is mathematically more likely.  With no demonstrated evidence of community transmission in these towns and in light of expanded testing capacity, it makes sense to lift some restrictions in rural towns.

As you know, small businesses are the backbone of rural economies.  Given the opportunity of a faster reopening of the economy in rural areas, we are hopeful that epidemiological data will prove that you can safely expedite the “Restarting Maine’s Economy” stages and salvage some of our crucial small businesses and some part of our tourism season.  Of course, we understand that negative data, especially a trend of increased hospitalization, may require you to slow down the reopening plan to a sustainable degree.  We agree that we all must be flexible as we simultaneously protect Mainers’ health and work to rebuild the economy.

We ask that you give rural towns in urban counties an equal opportunity at economic recovery.  Other mostly-rural states have started to reopen their economies more quickly than Maine, and the data thus far is very encouraging.  A safe, scientifically-informed approach to reopening Maine’s rural towns will give our people hope and encouragement after they have suffered so much.

Respectfully,

Senator Ned Claxton, M.D. (Democrat)
Representative Amy B. Arata, M.S. (Republican)

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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