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Maine postpones Statehood bicentennial bash for virus concern

By Kelley Bouchard, Portland Press Herald | Mar 12, 2020

The Statehood Day celebration of Maine’s bicentennial that was scheduled Sunday at the Augusta Armory has been postponed because of concerns about coronavirus disease.

The event marking 200 years of statehood was expected to draw several hundred attendees, performers and speakers to the state capital on the anniversary of Maine’s separation from Massachusetts.

“It will happen,” said David Cheever, vice chairman of Maine’s Bicentennial Commission. “It just won’t happen on March 15.”

Cheever confirmed the postponement Thursday shortly before Gov. Janet Mills announced the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in Maine.

Cheever said the commission followed the advice of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, which has recommended postponing non-essential indoor gatherings exceeding 250 people in an effort to delay a potential coronavirus outbreak and substantially reduce its spread.

The armory’s capacity is about 750, Cheever said, and the commission anticipated the gathering would include 400 seated audience members, 100 chorus members, 40 musicians and many others.

March 15 was always a bit “iffy,” Cheever said, because a late winter storm could have resulted in postponement. The party could be rescheduled within weeks, but the exact date is unknown, he said.

Maine became an independent state March 15, 1820, following years of political dissent and passage of the Missouri Compromise. The controversial federal legislation admitted Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state. It also divided the Louisiana Territory into free and slave-holding areas and laid the dividing line for future free and slave states.

The Statehood Day celebration was promoted as being open to all and free of charge. Set to start at 1 p.m., it was expected to include musical performances, poetry readings and speeches from Gov. Janet Mills, Maine’s congressional delegation, Wabanaki leaders, State Historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. and Maine Poet Laureate Stuart Kestenbaum. The U.S. Postal Service was expected to unveil Maine’s bicentennial stamp and Hannaford was lined up to provide birthday cake.

The individual who tested positive for COVID-19 is a woman in her 50s from Androscoggin County. The Maine CDC is speaking to the individual and her medical provider to assess travel history and begin to investigate possible community exposure. The individual is quarantined at her home.

Cheever said he hoped to reschedule all planned aspects of the statehood party in the near future.

“It’ll happen,” Cheever repeated reassuringly. “We just don’t know when.”

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