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Portland City Council enacts indoor mask mandate, ends state of emergency

The indoor mask mandate will go into effect at midnight on Jan. 5.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland City Council voted to enact an indoor mask mandate and end its ongoing state of emergency.

The Portland City Council voted unanimously at its meeting Monday night to adopt the new mask mandate modeled after one used in Burlington, Vermont

According to the mask mandate proposal, masks will be required in all public buildings in Portland for people ages two and up. Businesses that require proof of vaccination will be exempt. Since the mask mandate was passed as an emergency, it is set to go into effect at midnight on Jan. 5.

The Portland City Council will reassess the mask mandate every 30 days. 

"It's important to recognize we're figuring all of this out. We've never been here before. We're almost two years into uncharted waters, and unprecedented challenges," Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said.

The city will soon make masks available to businesses that need them, but they need to be ordered. 

Before the council voted to approve the new mask mandate, Councilor Roberto Rodriguez introduced an amendment to remove the exemption for businesses that require vaccinations, but that amendment failed to pass. 

Just hours before adopting a mask mandate, the city council voted to end its state of emergency. That emergency order was in effect for 21 months. 

Its end comes just two days after that same state of emergency triggered hazard pay for some workers in the city. It temporarily raised the minimum wage to $19.50 per hour, officials said. Without the emergency order in effect, the minimum wage in Portland is expected to return to $13.

During public comment on the issue, numerous small business owners spoke about the negative impact hazard pay wages would have on their business. Rodriguez, who also identified himself as a small businesses owner during Monday's meeting, supported ending the state of emergency.

"We then have to transfer that cost over to our customers or make adjustments to our labor. Very few people could survive a hit like we're speaking of," Rodriguez said. 

During public comment, multiple frontline workers also spoke on the current state of COVID in Maine and the country. Some speakers said workers risking their safety deserve to be paid a fair wage. 

Ultimately, the council voted 8-1 to end the state of emergency. Councilor Victoria Pelletier was the lone dissenting vote.

Snyder also asked that the community be patient as the council begins "moving away from a state of emergency, and into this place of continued public health crisis, and variants and the challenges that those have brought with delta and omicron."

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