April 30,2020 (Week 5) Newsletter (COVID-19)

Bristol Notes - April 30,2020 (Week 5) 

For the Bristol Selectmen:

Chris Hall, Town Administrator


Bristol’s path to reopening (Please see the bottom of this post for an update)

Bristol residents, whether part-year or year-round, are eager to understand the Governor’s re-opening plan for Maine’s economy, and how this will affect our Town.  I hope the following summary is helpful; as always things can and do change rapidly in this situation.

The Governor’s Emergency Order of April 28th sets out a four-step process for reopening. Aside from a schedule for reopening different categories of business and activity, there is one key provision that will impact Bristol heavily this summer. It does not lift the April 3rd Quarantine Order: any traveler arriving from out of Maine must continue to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. This is difficult to police, but it essentially prevents our weekly rental properties, campgrounds, hotels and bed-and-breakfasts from hosting anyone except in-state residents. This is expected to continue through August, though it will be subject to review.

Driving this quarantine requirement are the current high and rising rates of virus infection in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Bristol is in the second-oldest county in the oldest state, so we are very vulnerable. Our present remarkable good luck (see the charts on page 3) depends on maintaining responsible self-quarantining behavior from everybody who has traveled. 

Step One, beginning on May 1st, opens outdoor recreation activities (including golf courses and inland State Parks, though not coastal ones like Reid and Popham Beach), health care offices, and adds certain businesses to the ‘essential’ list that can be reopened (including barbershops and beauty salons). However the ‘stay at home’ order remains in place during May, and no gatherings of more than 10 people are permitted. Restaurants, movie theaters (except drive-ins), churches (again, except drive-in services), hotels and lodging remain closed.

On June 1st, the ‘stay-at-home’ order expires and most workplaces will reopen. The limit on the size of gatherings rises from 10 to 50. Restaurants and most businesses may reopen, with appropriate social distancing measures. I expect that Bristol Parks will officially open this day (subject to vote of the Parks Commission), as will the coastal State Parks. The Town Office will open to the public on a limited basis. Gyms (such as the YMCA in Damariscotta) and children’s day camps may reopen. Churches in Bristol may resume services, subject to the 50-person limit. Main Street Damariscotta will likely be crowded with people wearing masks!

On July 1st, hotels and campgrounds can reopen, but at present this would only be for in-state visitors. The state is working with the trade associations - Maine Tourism Association and Hospitality Maine – to develop guidelines for accepting reservations, which should be published next week. The limit on gatherings to under 50 people remains in place, so there will be size limits on weddings and funeral services, for example. Some sporting and other events will resume – for example, the summer lecture series of Old Bristol Historical Society and Friends of Colonial Pemaquid – but limitations on numbers can be expected. This probably means no Round Pond July 4th parade; and a decision on Olde Bristol Days, currently scheduled for August 15 and 16, will be taken by Memorial Day. Rockland has already canceled August’s annual Lobster Festival.

The remaining restrictions will hopefully be lifted in September (Phase Four), on present thinking. However many variables could change this – ranging from (on the downside) a spillover of the Massachusetts spike of cases, to (on the upside) far greater availability of testing. 

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

There have been no new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Lincoln County for a second week, as of Wednesday, April 29th. The total still stands at 12 cases, with ten now recovered.

After five weeks of the stay-at-home order, many people are understandably impatient to get their lives back to normal – especially those who are laid off from work and facing hardship. Adding to people’s impatience has been April’s persistent run of cool, windy and showery weather. While it has seemed as if the month has been exceptionally wet, in fact only a little more than 5 inches of rain have been recorded at the Owl’s Head Airport through April 30. The wettest April on record saw over 30 inches, in 1973.

When the Town Office reopens, probably on June 1st, you will see a small but important changes. Plexiglas shields are being installed at the service counters to protect customers and staff, and the bathroom will not be available to the public. Counter staff will wear gloves, and regularly wipe down all surfaces that may be touched by the public. Sadly, this may be the ‘new normal.’

Some immediate relief is at hand as seasonal businesses begin to open, if they qualify as ‘essential’ – thus Round Top Ice Cream in Damariscotta reopened for the season on April 25 (takeout only), and in Round Pond, Julie’s Greenhouse opens on May 9th, in time for Mother’s Day. Like all businesses, they have precautions in place to keep customers separate.

Until restaurants can reopen in June, takeout meals are popular. A treat for Mother’s Day (Sunday May 10th) could be a gourmet dinner from the Bradley Inn. Chef Ross Moskwa is preparing takeout meals on Fridays and Saturdays, for collection between 4 pm and 7 pm; menus and bookings are taken online at www.bradleyinn.com . On Sunday May 10th a Mother’s Day menu will be available for collection 1 pm to 5 pm. In Damariscotta, King Eider and the Damariscotta River Grill’s Prep Kitchen are also offering meals for pickup – check their web sites for menus.

Alfred Ajami has updated his excellent graphs, showing how we in Lincoln County compare with the Portland area (Cumberland County), the state and national numbers, and – this is crucial – our neighbors to the south. With Massachusetts and New Hampshire still seeing the virus spreading fast, there are limits to the extent to which Maine can afford to ease restrictions on movement and in particular not ease quarantines for people returning from trips south.

Ajami Graph

Alfred recommends two new, important sources of information: 1) The new CDC guidelines for keeping homes and workplaces safe available here.  and 2) “Five things everyone should know about the coronavirus outbreak” - available here, a bulletin from Yale Medical School including the recently expanded list of possible COVID-19 symptoms.

We depend on Damariscotta

Neither viruses nor money respect town boundaries. Bristol is inextricably linked with our neighbors and most especially with our local service center, the twin villages of Newcastle and Damariscotta. Damariscotta is where most of us go for health care, banking, shopping and entertainment. The health of Damariscotta’s economy, and its institutions, has a direct impact on our quality of life. Can you imagine life without Miles Hospital, Renys, or Hannaford? Fortunately these are strong establishments which will be here for the long haul. However other institutions – just as important to the quality of life in Bristol – do not have deep pockets.

The weekly Lincoln County News has had to cut back to two sections because of the drop-off in advertising, their principal source of revenue. Central Lincoln County Ambulance was just starting a fundraising drive for a long-overdue replacement of its two oldest ambulances, when the coronavirus hit. The Lincoln Theater has been ‘dark’ and without revenue for more than a month: they were hoping to reopen on May 17th, but this may now have to be pushed back to June. Please consider:

CLC Adult Education Update

Pam Sperry, Director of Central Lincoln County Adult Education, writes:

“While the majority of our enrichment classes had to be cancelled due to the current gathering restrictions, a handful of our instructors have opted to take the leap to an on-line instructional format. This medium does not lend itself well to all types of instruction but it can work well for some and we applaud our instructors’ efforts to keep the learning ball moving during these difficult times. 

“As you might imagine, we are losing a lot of revenue by not being able to run all of our enrichment classes. We will be documenting our losses and applying for aid if/when it becomes available.

“We have tried a number of formats for trying to meet the needs of our high school equivalency diploma students and our college transitions students and have settled on a plan that appears to be working well. Students make “appointments” with instructors during our regular Learning Center hours and receive individualized instruction on-line. Our college prep math class has converted to an on-line format as well.

“We will be holding a graduation at the end of May to celebrate the one student who was able to complete his testing before the shutdown. It may have to be held outside with social distancing guidelines firmly in place but we WILL celebrate our student’s tremendous achievement!”

CLC Adult Education covers the seven towns that make up the AOS 93 school district, including Bristol, Bremen, Damariscotta, Jefferson, Newcastle, Nobleboro and South Bristol. Their new summer/fall course catalog should soon be online at https://clc.maineadulted.org/

Bristol Selectmen are continuing to meet every two weeks in person, widely spaced apart. Members of the public may attend but the limit of ten people in any gathering means that once that number is reached, people will be turned away. Watch on LCTV by clicking here.

**UPDATE**

No sooner do I mail out the newsletter than the state announces one more case of coronavirus in Lincoln County, the first for more than two weeks. So this is not a time to relax.

I’ve also been asked to correct the statement about when Bristol hotels and inns can open. At present it is foreseen that lodging businesses can accept guests in June from within Maine or who have already quarantined themselves for two weeks (Stage 2), and in July as stated from any guest. However businesses are asked not to take bookings until further guidelines have been issued (hopefully, next week).

Here’s the full wording, as reported in the Bangor Daily News (scroll down):

Stage 2, beginning June 1st:

Tentatively beginning June 1st, Stage 2 contemplates revising the limitation on gatherings from less than 10 people to less than 50 people. It also calls for people who can work from home to continue to do so but allows for employees in certain fields to begin to reenter the office as needed, including State employees. It maintains the 14 day quarantine for all people entering or returning to Maine and the special precautions for older Mainers and others at risk of COVID-19. With appropriate safety precautions, Stage 2 would allow for some degree of opening with reservations, capacity limits and other measures for:

— Restaurants.

— Fitness and exercise centers and nail technicians.

— Retail stores for broader in-store shopping.

— Lodging and campgrounds for Maine residents and those who have met the 14 day quarantine requirement.

— Day camps for Maine children and those who have met the 14 day quarantine requirement.

— Coastal State parks.

Stage 3, beginning July 1st:

Tentatively beginning July 1st, Stage 3 contemplates maintaining the prohibition on gatherings of more than 50 people and other Stage 1 and Stage 2 restrictions, including the 14-day quarantine on people entering Maine. With appropriate safety precautions, Stage 3 would allow for some degree of opening for:

— Lodging, such as hotels, campgrounds, summer camps or RV parks for Maine residents and visitors. The Administration is developing guidelines to assist them in safely reopening, and reservations should not be taken until those guidelines are issued.

— Outdoor recreation such as charter boats and boat excursions.

— Bars.

— Personal services such as spas, tattoo and piercing parlors, and massage facilities, among others.

For more information on any of the matters touched on in this report, please email Chris Hall at [email protected]. Thank you for reading!