PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — About 200 people rallied in Maine’s capital Monday demanding the state to open back up, despite officials’ insistence on a cautious approach in order to prevent another coronavirus outbreak.
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Similar rallies have happened in New Hampshire, Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere in the country, with participants including gun rights activists, opponents of stay-at-home orders and supporters of Republican President Donald Trump. Maine’s event was organized by Republican state Rep. Chris Johansen, of Aroostook County.
Johansen urged participants in the rally to maintain social distance, wear masks and abstain from openly carrying guns. He also used social media to call on demonstrators to “fill up your gas tanks and get ready to rumble” in Augusta.
Attendees came to the capital to send the message that Maine has been closed long enough, said Larry Dunphy of Embden, a former state legislator who served as a Republican and later as an independent.
“It’s time to stop playing politics, which I believe the governor is doing, and look at opening Maine back up in a methodical, thoughtful manner,” Dunphy said, who was in the crowd in Augusta on Monday.
Many participants in the demonstration directed their ire at Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who placed the state under a stay-at-home order starting on March 31. Mills defended the order while acknowledging closures have been hard on people and businesses.
“At the same time, we all know that reopening too soon and too aggressively will likely cause a secondary surge in COVID-19 cases, jeopardizing the lines of Maine people and further destabilizing the economy,” she said.
REPUBLICANS VOICE CONCERNS
Dozens of Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Mills on Sunday calling for better communication between the governor’s office and GOP legislators.
The Republicans charged that they are learning of policy changes via Mills’ news conference instead of being informed about them beforehand. They cited Mills’ extension of Maine’s “state of civil emergency,” which she pushed to May 15 last week.
The GOP members also wrote that they are concerned about what plans are being made to reopen business in Maine.
“We know the department is very busy but also believe it is imperative that plans have begun to implement the kickstart of our economy,” they wrote.
Mills’s office said the governor is reviewing the letter. The office said it has been in contact with legislative staff and lawmakers and will “continue to provide them with answers to their questions in as timely a manner as possible.”
Maine has now had more than 875 cases of the virus and 35 deaths. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
The Office of Elder Affairs in Portland began a temporary program for volunteers to provide shopping and food delivery to older residents during the pandemic. The city said it isn’t accepting more volunteer applications at the moment because of a large response from the community.
Veterinary diagnostics company IDEXX announced Monday that it’s launching a coronavirus test for pets. It’s also developing a test for humans.
The Maine-based company says the pet test will be available to veterinarians in North America this week and will become available to the rest of the world in coming weeks.
The test addresses the concern that pets can contract the virus. Earlier this month, officials announced that a tiger at the Bronx Zoo had tested positive for the new coronavirus in what is believed to be the first known infection in an animal in the U.S. To date, IDEXX has found no positive results in its tests of animals.
As for the human testing, that initiative is in an early stage of development. It is being led by the company’s human health business, OPTI Medical Systems.
Associated Press writer David Sharp contributed to this report.