Maine postpones some reopenings, probes unemployment fraud

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine's governor announced Wednesday the state is postponing full reopening of restaurants in some parts of the state because of the risk of coronavirus.

Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, plans to move the state into its second phase of reopening on June 1. However, she said restaurants in York, Cumberland and Androscoggin counties won't be able to reopen for dine-in service that day.

The state is exercising caution because of an increase in hospitalizations and positive cases of coronavirus in the three counties, Mills said. The three counties are home to the largest cities in the state, including Portland and Lewiston. Portland is frequently cited as a top foodie destination.

The restaurants will be able to reopen for outside dining, Mills said. They can also still offer takeout and delivery, she said.

“Stay local, shop local, support your local businesses whenever possible,” Mills said. “We're all in this together.”

In other news related to the virus:

UNEMPLOYMENT FRAUD

Officials with the Maine Department of Labor said the department is pausing the processing of unemployment benefits for 48 hours to investigate fraud.

The department also said it’s reinstating its normal 10- to 14-day processing time for unemployment claims as it seeks to enhance security of the unemployment benefit system. The department said Tuesday the move is coming as the state is partnering with the federal government to crack down on fraud.

The state labor department said it has identified more than 2,000 false unemployment claims, the Portland Press Herald reported.

“MDOL will continue to work with our federal and state law enforcement partners to investigate and prevent fraud while paying benefits to eligible Maine workers as quickly as possible," Commissioner Laura Fortman said.

The state had expedited processing in response to unprecedented numbers of jobless claims. More than 138,000 Maine residents have filed a claim for unemployment benefits since March.

States around the country have grappled with unemployment fraud in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said state and federal agencies are working to avert schemes in which “criminals using stolen personal information to file fraudulent claims with state unemployment systems.”

The state shouldn't run social service programs in ways that hurt residents making good faith requests, said Tiffany Bond, a Portland attorney who is running as an independent for U.S. Senate.

"Even a week of delay can cause damage to recipients that takes years to recover from," she said.

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THE NUMBERS

There have been more than 2,100 cases of the virus and 81 deaths in Maine. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems.

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TEST PRODUCTION

A company that makes rapid-result tests for the new coronavirus plans to add a new production center in Westbrook.

Abbott Laboratories is renovating and expanding a building that was used as a sporting goods distribution center. The building will be converted into a manufacturing facility for the COVID-19 test kits.

The Illinois-based company also received approval to expand its existing facility in Scarborough, where 50,000 test kits are produced daily, a town official told the Portland Press Herald.

All told, 2 million kits have been distributed, a spokesman said. The kits can produce positive results within 15 minutes.

A staffing company that's assisting Abbott said it's looking for 1,000 to 2,000 workers to produce the test kits.

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SHIPYARD

Navy shipbuilder Bath Iron Works reports that a contractor tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a letter to employees, the shipyard says the individual is quarantined and receiving medical care. Two other vendors who worked in close proximity with the worker have been placed in quarantine.

The infected worker was wearing personal protective equipment while at the shipyard, officials said.

Two shipbuilders previously tested positive for the virus, but both recovered and returned to work.

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This story has been corrected to show that Tiffany Bond is running as an independent, not a Democrat.