Gov. Janet Mills announced on Thursday new, last-minute restrictions on businesses to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Maine. Starting Friday, Nov. 20 and lasting until Dec. 6, all outdoor and indoor amusement venues, including casinos, movie theaters, performing arts venues, tasting rooms, social clubs, restaurants and bars will be required to close by 9 p.m. The decision comes abruptly for businesses just before the holidays, when there’s typically an increase in social gatherings.
Under a standing executive order, Commissioners Heather Johnson and Jeanne Lambrew of the state’s economic development and health and human services departments, respectively, have the authority to tailor requirements to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the private sector, delivered to the business community in the form of COVID-19 prevention checklists. The checklist for seated food and drink service establishments was updated Thursday to reflect the change.
Johnson spoke this morning on the WGAN Morning News regarding the impact this change will have on restaurants, which are already struggling to survive due to the existing coronavirus restrictions that have upended the livelihoods of owners and employees alike.
“It is our goal to keep business capacity as open as possible, and I think this is a step toward that without making any bigger impact than we need to,” Johnson said.
Jaime LaCasse, front of house manager at Samuel’s Bar and Grill in Portland, explained the effect this measure will have on her business and employees. She recognizes the governor’s good intentions, but cannot deny the negative consequences of the new mandate.
“Overall, for our small staff, we are losing maybe 70 business hours, and that’s only if it lasts the two weeks that we are anticipating,” LaCasse said. “Our businesses really thrive on late night food and drink. We are very industry heavy. We serve other people who work in the industry, and that’s a large part of our business that we’re going to completely lose.”
Like many bars and restaurants, Samuel’s will have to cut the hours of staff who are already part-time due to lack of work.
“Certain employees who are part time will probably be laid off temporarily, and all of our full-time employees will definitely be seeing their hours cut back,” LaCasse said.
Steve Hewins, president and CEO of HospitalityMaine, attributes the comparably low virus rate in Maine to the diligence and safety measures of the hospitality industry, especially during the busier summer and fall season.
With over 4,000 restaurants in the state employing thousands of Mainers, concerns are increasing over the sudden nature of this measure, leaving many critics to question the arbitrary, last-minute decision making of the Mills administration and the lack of science behind such orders.
“Where is the science that shows that eating dinner or having a drink after 9 p.m. is an added danger?” Hewins asked Friday on the WGAN Morning News.
Critics are also concerned about what patrons will do when indoor and outdoor dining services cease at 9p.m. Many fear patrons will leave to gather in settings where masking, social distancing and sanitation measures are not practiced, undermining the administration’s attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 through the new business curfew.
Servers and bartenders are equally affected by the governors mandates.
“Well, I lost my job,” said Anthony DeRice, a bartender at Legends Rest Taproom in Westbrook. “I obviously knew it was coming, I just am not sure how closing a few hours earlier will help. It only hurts those of us relying on those hours to make a living.”
“Here I used to feel differently, thinking curfews and shutdowns would be helpful, but I now think that it is not feasible to keep small businesses, like the one I work at, open with these restrictions,” he said. “And of course, personally, I am even more affected, especially since there are no safeguards in place to help those who are now out of a job due to this decision.”