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Maine's updated mask guidance explained

Maine adopted the latest public health guidelines of the US CDC. Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah makes it clear that 'these are recommendations, not requirements.'

AUGUSTA, Maine — This week, the U.S. CDC updated its guidance on wearing masks in indoor public settings.

Here in Maine it means based on the level of community transmission of the coronavirus, people are encouraged to mask up, even if they are vaccinated. But contrary to what some people may think, mask usage is not mandatory in Maine. 

Maine has adopted the latest public health guidelines of the U.S. CDC. Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah makes it clear that "these are recommendations, not requirements."

The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of "substantial or high" community transmission.

"Substantial transmission" means at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days. "High transmission" is more than 100 cases per 100,000 people over the last week. 

Most of Maine has "moderate" levels of transmission, according to the U.S. CDC COVID-19 transmission map.

Here's where Maine counties stand as of Thursday, August 12:

High

  • Waldo County
  • Washington
  • Piscataquis
  • Penobscot 

Substantial

  • Cumberland County
  • Lincoln County
  • Penobscot County
  • Aroostook County
  • York County
  • Oxford County
  • Androscoggin County
  • Knox County
  • Hancock County
  • Washington County
  • Somerset County
  • Piscataquis County
  • Franklin County

Moderate

  • Sagadahoc County
  • Kennebec County
Credit: NCM

For most of Maine, Shah said "the recommendation for whether to wear a mask in indoor public settings has not changed, though it could in the future."

He's referring to the fact that the data on where there are concerning levels of transmission of the coronavirus can change quickly, especially because of Maine's small population, where just a few more cases can change the metrics.

So there is no mask mandate, but businesses can require employees and customers to wear masks as owners see fit.

But what about schools?

The CDC now recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Maine has adopted that guidance. Shah said, "Putting a mask on is another thing to help with keeping schools safe and in person this year."

But for now, at least, the final call for schools comes at the local level, so it is up to each school district to decide what to do.

And for those who ask why the guidance seems to keep changing as we learn more about the danger from the Delta variant? Shah says it's all about the science.

"This is what science does," he said. "Something new comes on the horizon, scientists study it and our recommendations to keep you safe evolve as a result."

You can keep tabs on the spread of COVID-19 in Maine on the U.S. CDC's COVID-19 Data Tracker page, which breaks down data by county.

Shah spoke about the updated guidance in a press conference on Wednesday. Watch the full press conference here: