Maine Gov. Janet Mills announced Friday that Maine is dropping its indoor mask order for fully vaccinated people and lifting the physical distancing requirement at indoor public settings like restaurants and bars, effective May 24.
The decision is based on new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that allows fully vaccinated Americans not to wear face coverings indoors.
Physical distancing requirements will no longer be in place for indoor restaurants, bars, dining areas in camps or in congregate living facilities and break rooms.
It is still recommended that people in Maine who are not fully vaccinated wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The CDC also still requires masks to be worn on all planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation.
The May 24 date aligns with Maine's previously-established timeline to remove COVID-19 restrictions and allows those who have not yet been vaccinated -- including youths ages 12 to 15 -- to receive at least their first shot before the change.
“We welcome this new guidance and we agree – being vaccinated is the best way to protect you and your loved ones from COVID-19," Mills said. "After a review of the new guidance, we are adopting the U.S. CDC’s recommendations, and we continue to strongly urge all Maine people to get their shots. There are appointments available across the state right now. As we get back to normal, rolling up your sleeve is going to ensure that you stay healthy and alive. Please don’t wait. Get your shot now.”
While the new guidance goes into effect on May 24, businesses in Maine that want to continue requiring masks after that date are able to do.
According to a press release from Mills' office, they can also require employees or clients to present proof of vaccination before someone takes off their mask “consistent with legal obligations.”
“We will leave that to the businesses,” said Jeanne Lambrew, the commissioner of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services.
A spokeswoman for HospitalityMaine, an industry group with more than 1,000 members including restaurant and hotel owners, called Mills’ update, “a collective sigh of relief,” that ends “14 months of twists and turns.”
While the group does represent a number of people, Briana Volk, a co-owner of Portland Hunt and Alpine Club with her husband, Andrew, said the couple has small children and a staff that isn’t fully vaccinated.
They are concerned that there may be customers who will push back on their decision to keep a more regimented system than the loosened Maine and national CDC guidelines.
“We’re really kind of worried and expecting hostility from people,” she said.
According to officials, it is an undecided question whether or not Maine will have an official system or process to guide businesses who want to have a policy for customers to prove they’re vaccinated before they take off their masks indoors.
On the vaccine front overall, Maine has well and has consistently been at the top of lists of states ranked by percentage of population fully vaccinated.
Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah explained Friday that he hopes the rule change will prompt people who are unvaccinated to choose to receive COVID-19 shots.
“We hope that for some folks it may serve as an incentive,” he said.
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On Thursday, Mills updated the "Moving Maine Forward Plan" to lift all capacity limits and physical distancing requirements in all outdoor public settings on May 24. She also lifted capacity limits for indoor public venues.
So far, more than 70% of Maine residents age 18 and older have received at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine. The state continues to lead the nation in the percentage of its population that is fully vaccinated.