AUGUSTA, Maine — Shortly after the U.S. CDC eased its guidelines on wearing masks outdoors, Gov. Janet Mills announced Maine will be following their recommendations, and even taking them a step further.
The U.S. CDC said fully vaccinated Americans don't need to wear face coverings outdoors unless they're in big crowds. Those who are unvaccinated can go outside without masks in some cases as well.
In Maine, however, Mills said the outdoor mask requirement will be lifted for all Mainers, but Mills still encourages people to get vaccinated. The change is effective immediately.
“With the summer months nearly upon us, this offers a great opportunity for people to get outside and safely enjoy all that Maine has to offer. I applaud all the work Maine people have put in to protect themselves and others and continue to encourage them to get vaccinated and wear a mask when inside or when around others so that we can get this pandemic fully behind us," Mills said in a statement.
The Maine CDC and U.S. CDC still recommend that masks be worn outdoors where it is difficult to maintain social distancing, however. The Governor's Office said face coverings are also still required for indoor public settings, as recommended by the U.S. CDC.
The U.S. CDC, which has been cautious in its guidance during the crisis, essentially endorsed what many Americans have already been doing over the past several weeks.
The CDC says that fully vaccinated or not, people do not have to wear masks outdoors when they walk, bike, or run alone or with members of their household. They can also go maskless in small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated people.
But from there, the CDC has differing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated and those who are not.
Unvaccinated people — defined by the CDC as those who have yet to receive both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson formula — should wear masks at outdoor gatherings that include other unvaccinated people. They also should keep using masks at outdoor restaurants.
Fully vaccinated people do not need to cover up in those situations, the CDC says.
“Scientific studies continue to show that outdoor activities are much safer than indoor ones,” Maine CDC Director Nirav D. Shah said in a statement. “As more Maine people become vaccinated against COVID-19, outdoor activities become that much safer.”
During the coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, when asked why the Maine CDC went a step further than the U.S. CDC's recommendations, in that all people, rather than just those fully vaccinated, can be outdoors without a mask, Shah credited Maine's high vaccination rates as a top reason.
"Our vaccination rates are among the top in the country," Shah said, "and that makes a difference."
According to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker, Maine is leading the nation in the percentage of the population fully vaccinated.
Shah said this outdoor mask update "is just a recognition that times are changing because of vaccinations, and with it—our policies are changing."
Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew echoed that sentiment during the briefing and said the more people are vaccinated, the more the ability the state has to alter the public health protocols because the risk for transmission of COVID-19 is lower.
"The sooner you get your shot, the sooner we can begin to move towards those sorts of activities and engagements we all love," Lambrew said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker also relaxed the state's outdoor mask mandate effective Friday, as well as other COVID-19-related business restrictions.
On April 16, New Hampshire's governor, Chris Sununu, allowed the state's mask mandate to expire, becoming the first New England state to lift its mask mandate for both outdoor and indoor spaces.
"I would love to see people continue to wear the masks," Sununu said. "The only thing changing is New Hampshire isn't coming down and saying 'thou shalt or must'."
Watch Tuesday's coronavirus briefing with Shah and Lambrew: