Part of an occasional series answering readers’ questions about Maine. 

Q: When will long-term care facilities be able to have family visits?

A: Access to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in Maine is restricted under orders from various state and federal agencies that are following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, only essential staff may enter long-term care facilities.

As a result, for the last two months, residents of these facilities have been limited to communicating with loved ones via phone calls, online chats and window visits.

A decision on when to lift visitation restrictions will be made in conjunction with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services, said Rick Erb, head of the Maine Health Care Association, which represents more than 200 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

“This will depend on what is happening with COVID-19 on the state and national levels,” Erb said.

However, restrictions on long-term care facilities likely will remain in place longer than others because their residents are more vulnerable to coronavirus infection, as well as complications. In addition to being in the most susceptible population, they live in close quarters and many have underlying health problems. Most of the 64 COVID-19 deaths in Maine have been people over age 60.

“As other restrictions are lifted across the state, it is likely that limitations on long-term care visitation will still be in place,” Erb said. “A decision will be made to fully reopen facilities when officials are confident that residents will not be put at risk. We don’t know when that will be.”

Q: When will police start issuing tickets for an expired car inspection, registration or driver’s license?

A: Police in Maine are generally not enforcing state laws covering inspection stickers, vehicle registrations and expired driver’s licenses – for now.

One of Gov. Janet Mills’ emergency orders effectively suspends enforcement of these provisions, and for good reason. The ability to complete some of the mundane tasks associated with buying a car, transferring a title or getting registered has ground to a halt. City and town treasury offices that typically collect vehicle sales tax and excise tax payments are shut down. The same goes for Bureau of Motor Vehicle offices.

The order is in place until 30 days after the governor ends the state of emergency.

The order is not a free pass for bad behavior, though, said Lt. Robert Martin, spokesman for the Portland police.

Officers can still write tickets for an unsafe motor vehicle if they believe it is warranted. And the governor’s order still allows police to make a stop for an expired inspection or registration sticker, even if they cannot write tickets. That means if an officer suspects a driver may be drunk or otherwise in violation of a more serious law, an expired inspection or registration can still be used as a pretext to initiate a traffic stop and investigate, which could lead to other, non-vehicle-related charges, Martin said.

So what happens when the governor’s emergency order is lifted? Everyone in Maine who could not register, pay taxes or get an inspection will have 30 days to do so, which could lead to a bit of a rush on inspection shops and town offices.

How that process will play out is still unknown, but there could be avenues for flexibility. For instance, if city and town offices and BMV locations begin to open up to customers before the governor’s order is lifted, it could give motorists more time to get their cars and trucks into compliance before the 30-day clock starts ticking. Another unknown is how police will handle drivers whose registrations are expired more than 150 days, a misdemeanor crime, especially if the 150-day mark passed before the lockdown, Martin said.

Q: Will there be sports this summer?

A: There’s no easy answer, as Little Leagues, summer high school programs, sports camps and local recreation department camps wait to see what guidelines are set by Gov. Mills, the Maine CDC and Department of Education.

Little League programs could begin as soon as June 1 – the date that public gatherings can increase from 10 to 50 people, according to Mills’ four-stage opening of the state. But local leagues are still trying to determine if they can provide adequate social distancing to keep everyone safe. Most summer sports camps have been canceled through July, though some may try to reschedule later in the summer.

The Maine Principals’ Association, which governs high school sports, has set July 6 as the date in which high school coaches can hold in-person practices with their team members. So there’ll be no high school practices or summer games until then, at least.

Summer club teams are in similar situati0ns. While the AAU has lifted the suspension of its events in many areas, it is unlikely that any Maine teams will travel out of state for any weekend events.

Don Briggs, one of the co-founders of the highly successful Maine Firecrackers AAU programs, said it’s possible they will not have any activities until August and play into the fall. “We’re working through it with the families and what they’re comfortable with,” said Briggs. “There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now. … I would say the fall is what we’re targeting.”

The Seacoast United soccer club out of Portland and Topsham, which has over 1,200 members, is going to concentrate on training exercises, not games.

“We’re looking to start training in June to basically just get the kids back into some organized activities, with heavy restrictions in place,” said club director Andrew Pelletier. “From there, we’ll see if games are a possibility. But right now we want to just concentrate on training.”

He added that Seacoast United would not travel out of state for tournaments until receiving government guidelines “that say that’s the right thing to do.”

Staff Writers Kelley Buchard, Matt Byrne and Mike Lowe contributed to this story.


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