New CDC Mask Guidance Sparks Confusion in Maine, Where Data Appeared to Shift

The Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce said it has been fielding questions from business owners about what they should allow or not in terms of masking

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People in Maine are trying to make sense of the new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indoor mask recommendations echoed by the state during a news briefing Wednesday afternoon.

At the time, the state was emphasizing that the federal health regulator had labelled York and Piscataquis counties as having "substantial" COVID-19 transmission, recommending that people there wear masks in indoor public settings.

However, within 45 minutes of the news conference's start, the data changed, showing Waldo County, which includes Belfast, as the only place where people were advised to mask up indoors.

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman Robert Long on Thursday confirmed the guidance now only applied to Waldo County.

With the delta variant spreading and rates of positive coronavirus cases increasing, the CDC is now recommending vaccinated people wear masks indoors in high-transmission areas.

However, some people in Kennebunkport, which is part of York County, said they had seen the prior guidance on social media or heard about it and said they had been unsure of what exactly made sense for them to do or not do.

"It's a bit concerting and disconcerting," said Lloyd Sprott, who was visiting Kennebunkport from the Dallas, Texas, area, adding that he believes, "there needs to be a definitive solution to what we're going to do."

The Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce said it, too, has been fielding questions from business owners about what they should allow or not in terms of masking.

A newsletter had been sent out to members announcing York County had hit the threshold of masks recommended, according to the group's executive director, Laura Dolce.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention update their mask guidelines on Tuesday, July 27, in light of surges of hyper-contagious delta variant. The CDC now recommends both unvaccinated and vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors in public settings.

As for what businesses should do now, Dolce said that her advice to owners on masks has been to do what makes them feel protected against COVID-19.

Overall, the vast majority of visitors to Kennebunkport's Dock Square on Thursday were not wearing masks outdoors, though some were. Some people put masks on before entering businesses, although that was not required, and at least one business, Karleen's Ideas, was requiring masks, though that policy had begun before the pandemic.

"We're always prepared if a shop requires masks," said Angelo Cerminara of Topsfield, Massachusetts.

He said he had become used to constantly changing requirements: "This whole past year's been so crazy that you can't really figure out things until you go through a cycle of some changes."

The mask recommendations and masking in general have the potential to spill over into Maine's 2022 race for governor.

On Wednesday evening, just hours after the briefing from the Mills administration, a message from former Maine Gov. Paul LePage -- who is running for election again -- brought up the topic of masking for COVID-19 protection: "Requiring people who are vaccinated to wear masks discourages the use of vaccines by sending a false message on the effectiveness of vaccines. Mask requirements are a step backwards and also erode personal freedoms."

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