Maine Gov. Mills Announces New, Stricter Face Mask Order

The order requires people to wear masks in public, regardless of whether they are able to maintain a safe social distance from others

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Maine Gov. Janet Mills has announced a new executive order that steps up face mask requirements as the state sees a spike in coronavirus cases.

The order, filed Wednesday and effective immediately, requires people -- with some exceptions -- to wear masks in public, regardless of whether they are able to maintain a safe social distance from other people.

Face coverings are required in public for children aged five and older, including in schools. They are also recommended for those between two and four years old, Mills said in a statement.

Some people with serious medical conditions or who are unable to remove masks without assistance are exempt from the order, according to the Mills administration.

Business owners will be required to post visible signs saying that masks are required if they operate indoor public spaces.

The latest order strengthens Mills' previous mandate from July that stated face coverings must be worn in situations where physical distancing is hard to maintain.

The governor's announcement came on a day when the state hit a record high 183 COVID-19 cases and saw its seven-day positivity rate spike to double where it was two weeks earlier.

"We want to make a bright line here," Mills said in a Zoom interview with NECN and NBC10 Boston. "The point is, when you leave your house, wear a mask. You never know when you're going to run into somebody else on a street corner in a store or parking lot."

A coronavirus outbreak in Waldo County, Maine, has been tied to a church and now cases at school as well.

While Mills is hoping to encourage more mask wearing, she explained that the new order is meant to be more of an update of the previous order and does not alter any other guidance given prior in other settings. She added that "common sense" should apply when making a decision on wearing a mask in more rural areas when Mainers are alone hiking or hunting outdoors.

"We can't morally wait until our healthcare facilities are overburdened and overwhelmed," Mills said.

In addition to the increase in Maine’s seven-day positivity rate, hospitalization rates have also increased, according to health officials.

"Maine is experiencing widespread community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19," Dr. Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine CDC, said in a statement. "Wearing face coverings and staying at least six feet away from others when out in public are ways that every person in Maine can limit potential spread of the virus to help make their communities and homes safer."

In Maine's largest city, Portland Mayor Kate Snyder issued the following mandate about the mask order:

"Given the consistent increase in positive COVID-19 cases in Maine, it's imperative that we increase our vigilance when it comes to wearing a mask. The Governor's order reflects the severity of the current spread in Maine and wearing a mask in public settings, regardless of the ability to maintain physical distance, is something we can all do to contribute to the health of our community."

Other city and town officials were critical of Mills' mandate.

"It almost seems like, how did we function before Governor Mills came on the scene," asked Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque.

"We should have a heads up.. the people of Maine are not going to listen to this order or the subsequent orders," explained Levesque, saying that a number of people in the state are tired of months of "shifting goals" on COVID-19.

Levesque said the governor should call Maine's legislature back into session, have a group discussion with municipal leaders and "have a deep dialogue with the people of Maine that's not condescending."

"Masks work, I'd love to see the data supporting it, but I believe they do and in Auburn we have very good and strong compliance but there's a certain point people say it's pointless," Levesque said.

Asked about her communication with leaders, Mills told NECN and NBC10 Boston her office had been speaking with municipal leaders including Levesque throughout the pandemic and had been balancing public health and the economy, noting that she was not calling for curfews like ones in Massachusetts nor was she shutting businesses down.

"We're not shutting anything down, nobody's been shut down. We're not allowing the opening of bars but no one's being shut down that's now open," she said.

Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker announced a similar executive order earlier this week, making it mandatory for all people over the age of 5 to wear a face covering in all public spaces.

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