Maine Gov. Janet Mills issued a new executive order Friday strengthening the enforcment of the state's existing face covering requirement in all indoor public spaces.
The governor also warned that more severe restrictions might be necessary, including reduced gathering limits or business closures.
"Short of closing businesses and schools and requiring people to stay home, which is the last thing I want to do, especially during the holidays, we are running out of available public health tools to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Maine," Mills said in a statement. "Hospitalizations are on the rise, more people are getting sick, and more people are dying. We know masks can stop the spread. But we need people to wear them. This Executive Order is aimed at ensuring that we are protecting people in stores, protecting store employees, and keeping Maine people healthy."
Moving forward, state officials said owners and operators of all indoor public spaces -- regardless of the type of entity or size -- must not allow those who refuse to wear a face covering to enter or remain in the venue. Previous orders had required enforcement in some but not all public settings.
“Maine's retailers, grocers and restaurants employ one in four Maine workers. That means you have a family member, a friend or a neighbor that is relying on that job to survive,” said Curtis Picard, president and CEO of Retail Association of Maine. “If you don't wear a mask, don't try to enter a store. It's that simple: No Mask, No Service, No Exceptions.”
The executive order also clarifies that claiming a medical exemption is not an excuse to enter or remain in an establishment without a face covering. This comes in light of reports from retailers of individuals abusing the exemption.
Additionally, municipalities, which are authorized to enforce the use of face coverings on streets and sidewalks, in parks and in other public spaces like town halls where individuals gather, are also now required to deny entry to indoor public spaces to those who will not wear face coverings.
If an establishment refuses to comply, the state said it can take action against its operating license, and violations of executive orders are punishable by up to 180 days imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Anyone who is made aware of the face covering requirement and insists on entering an establishment can be removed and charged with trespassing by law enforcement.
“This is another important step in slowing the spread of COVID-19, protecting employees, and keeping Maine businesses open,” added Heather Johnson, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development. “It is important that all people of Maine take this responsibility seriously and do their part by wearing a mask every time they leave their home.”
The governor also announced Friday that she has dedicated another $100,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds to continue the state's "Keep It Maine" public awareness campaign focusing on the importane of wearing face coverings, staying six feet apart and practicing good hygiene.
The latest average positivity rate in Maine is 3.86%. The 7-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Maine has risen over the past two weeks from 2.89% on Nov. 26 to 3.86% on Dec. 10.
Public health authorities in the state reported on Friday that the state exceeded 15,000 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic. They also said the state recorded its 250th death.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.