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Effort to mandate masks in Portland fails, city to launch education campaign instead

After weeks of debate, councilors voted 5-4 to remove mandate language from an emergency resolution.

PORTLAND, Maine — Leaders in Maine's largest city struck down an effort to mandate masks indoors despite the urging of city health officials.

Following weeks of debate, Portland city councilors were split 4-4 on the mandate at the last council meeting in September. 

Councilors took up the issue again Monday night to require face coverings in all indoor public settings due to the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases.

The mandate language was ultimately removed by amendment from a measure to declare a 'State of Emergency' in the city by a 5-4 vote.

The emergency resolution went on to pass 5-3 in order to allow city meetings to continue remotely.

While the mandate effort failed, councilors voted unanimously in favor of a new resolution to "strongly urge" precautionary measures, including masking indoors. 

That means the city will soon be launching a new public education campaign.

"I think government works best when it seeks the voluntary compliance of our residents and visitors," Councilor Mark Dion said. "Whatever efforts we can do to encourage individual responsibility, because that's where the rubber meets the road."

Several councilors voiced concerns that a campaign did not go far enough, but others feared a mandate would be difficult to enforce and felt the decision should be up to individuals. 

"This resolution is not a perfect solution to the problems that we face as a community, but I do believe it is the step in the right direction and something that can bring us together," Mayor Kate Snyder said. 

Masks are still required in city buildings, including sports and concert venues.

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