Many Maine businesses will have to close at 9 p.m. under a new order from Gov. Janet Mills aiming to curtail the spread of the coronavirus that drew criticism from the restaurant and hotel industry.
Starting Friday through Sunday, Dec. 6, all outdoor and indoor amusement venues, movie theaters, performing arts venues, casinos and businesses that provide seated food and drink service will need to close for the night by 9 p.m. That includes social clubs, restaurants, and bars and tasting rooms currently open for outdoor service.
Mills hinted at the changes in a press conference Wednesday. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and New York also have instituted early business closures at 10 p.m. to minimize extended evening gatherings.
The curfew in Maine is designed to limit extended gatherings at a time when many students and family members are returning to the state for the holidays.
“As we enter the colder months and a holiday season when we customarily gather with friends and family, we are also entering a new and dangerous phase of the pandemic,” Mills said in a statement.
She said other steps may be necessary in the coming weeks if the virus isn’t brought under control. Although business representatives said they understand the need for safety, they criticized the abrupt nature of the announcement.
“Where is the science that shows that eating dinner or having a drink after 9 p.m. is an added danger?” said Steve Hewins, president and CEO of the 1,000-member industry group HospitalityMaine.
He said one of the reason’s Maine’s overall COVID-19 rate has been comparably low is that restaurants and hotels have performed well with safety mandates during the pandemic, especially during the busy summer and fall visitor seasons.
“We wonder why the hospitality industry is continually being singled out,” he said, noting that the head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the national CDC have expressed concern about private gatherings and individuals letting down their guard.
Hollywood Casino General Manager Austin Muchemore offered a more muted response, saying the Bangor casino has been operating successfully under safety protocols since it reopened in July with significantly reduced capacity levels.
Republicans in the Maine House of Representatives criticized the Democratic governor, saying her one-day notice punishes workers and families that need the income from potentially lost work hours.
“I am concerned about the increased anxiety for families that will suffer additional loss of income entering the holiday season,” House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, said.