As COVID-19 Cases Climb, Maine Residents Adjust to New Mask Mandate

Masks must now be worn in all public settings whether people are within six feet or not as Maine deals with increasing coronavirus cases

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Maine is now in its second day under a new executive order requiring masks to be worn in all public settings regardless of social distancing.

Previously, people in the state were only required to wear masks in public if they could not separate themselves six feet for more from other people, but Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, changed that on Thursday.

A day later, in a Friday afternoon press briefing, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Maine had seen 18% of its to-date COVID-19 cases appear within the last two weeks.

"Hospitalizations are up sharply," said Shah. "Widespread masking would have rapid and significant impact on transmission across the state and across the country."

In Portland, where Mayor Kate Snyder called the mandate "something we can all do to contribute to the health of our community," there is a general sense the new order will help fight COVID-19 in Maine.

"I don't have a problem with it," said Andrew Ingels, who was in downtown Portland on Thursday. "If we don't do what we've got to do, it'll last longer and damage our economy."

In areas with less density than Maine's largest city, there are at least a few skeptics of Mills' idea, not necessarily because they think mask wearing does not work to fight coronavirus, but instead "because of nine months of repetitive, counterintuitive orders, over and over, that are inherently unfair to the vast majority of people and businesses in Maine," according to Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque.

As of Friday, a new mask mandate is in effect in Massachusetts, and people are urged to stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Either way, at certain locations, Mainers and visitors will not have a choice whether or not to wear a mask.

At restaurants, Maine's Department of Economic and Community Development explained new guidance.

"Customers must wear face coverings at all times, including when seated at the table, except while eating or drinking," the department said in a statement. "Customers are strongly encouraged to put on their face covering any time there is waitstaff at the table (e.g., when taking orders, delivering food or drink, busing tables). Customers must wear face coverings when interacting with employees at a pick-up window, curbside pick-up area, or drive-thru."

At the Sunday River ski resort, masks will be mandatory in all public areas this winter season, excluding times when a person is seated and eating.

"Prior to the governor's announcement, we were already planning to make masks required at the resort," said Sunday River Director of Communication Karolyn Castaldo. "This will include while you're riding the trail, while you're skiing and while you're in the base lodges."

Along with the mask mandate, Maine's list of states with quarantine or test requirements now includes Connecticut again.

Massachusetts is not on it, but Mills told NECN and NBC10 Boston on Thursday that she "highly recommends" anyone traveling from Massachusetts to Maine get a coronavirus test.

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