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Strengthened mask mandate gets support from Dems, opposition from GOP

Maine GOP says Mills’ mask mandate ‘goes too far’ while the Portland mayor says it ‘reflects the severity’ of the current spread of COVID-19.

PORTLAND, Maine — As Maine continued to set coronavirus records for the third straight day, Gov. Janet Mills and her administration announced steps to fight the spread of COVID-19 with a strengthened mask mandate. The new executive order requires Maine people to wear face coverings in public settings, regardless of the ability to maintain physical distance.

The new order strengthens an earlier one stating that face coverings must be worn only when physical distancing is difficult to maintain. Earlier this week, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker issued a similar order.

Maine’s seven-day positivity rate, while still significantly lower than other states, has nearly tripled in the past two weeks to 1.52 percent while hospitalizations have also increased.

“We have recorded yet another day of record-high case numbers. This deadly and dangerous virus is spreading all across our state,” Mills said“Protect your family. Protect a health care worker. Protect the elderly. Wear your face covering. Save lives. It is that simple.”

But the Maine Republican Party (GOP) says Mills’ new mandate “has gone too far.”

Republicans in Maine and throughout the country have staunchly opposed statewide restrictions like mask mandates, despite the proven fact that masks significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19.

"While we agree it is important for Mainers to take precautions and keep themselves safe, instituting a mandatory mask mandate in all public spaces is beyond excessive,” Maine GOP Chair Dr. Demi Kouzounas said in a statement.

“Under Mills' mask order, if you're walking in your neighborhood with nobody around or hunting by yourself in the woods, you will be required to wear a mask at all times,” Kouzounas said.

The Governor’s Office says the term “public spaces” is to be broadly construed and includes:

  • Indoor spaces that are accessible to the public, including but not limited to restaurants, grocery stores, retail stores, pharmacies, health care facilities, social clubs, auditoriums, theaters, stadiums, arenas, concert halls, convention centers, meeting halls, gymnasiums, rinks, fitness centers, houses of worship, transportation centers, indoor parking garages as well as other public accommodations.
  • Outdoor spaces including but not limited to playgrounds, parking lots, city sidewalks, athletic and sports venues, and other areas such as lines for take-out service where the public typically gathers in a smaller area.
  • Public transportation such as a taxi, Uber, Lyft, ride-sharing or similar service; ferry, bus, or train; and any semi-enclosed transit stop or waiting area.
  • Portions of municipal, county, state, and private buildings and grounds that are typically accessible to the public, including parking lots, walkways, lobbies, waiting areas, elevators, service desks, and related hallways. For the purpose of this section, government buildings and grounds include those privately owned and leased for government use.
  • Other locations that the Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) identify as presenting a risk of transmission of the virus.

“While Janet Mills does not appear to believe Mainers are intelligent enough to understand when they should wear a mask, we trust people to take necessary precautions and we believe Mainers should be treated like the intelligent, informed adults that they are,” Kouzounas continued.

Democrats, however, have voiced their support of the new actions Mills has taken. 

“While Governor Mills is taking prudent and science-backed measures to protect Mainers in the midst of a global pandemic, Maine Republicans are once again trying to play politics," Seth Nelson, spokesperson for the Maine Democratic Party said. "Protecting your family, friends, and neighbors is not about politics — it’s about public health.”

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said, "Given the consistent increase in positive COVID-19 cases in Maine, it's imperative that we increase our vigilance when it comes to wearing a mask. The Governor's order reflects the severity of the current spread in Maine and wearing a mask in public settings, regardless of the ability to maintain physical distance, is something we can all do to contribute to the health of our community."

Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, who won her re-election bid in the 1st Congressional District on Tuesday, echoed Mills’ sentiment that wearing a mask and practicing social distancing is “that simple.”

Pingree said Mills “acted swiftly to keep Mainers safe,” with her new mandates.  

Mills’ Executive Order also reduces indoor gathering limits as previously announced. The gathering limit on outdoor activities remains at 100 people under existing guidelines, with physical distancing and the use of face coverings. Occupancy limits for retail establishments remain at five people per 1,000 square feet of shopping space. The Mills Administration had previously increased indoor seating limits to 50 percent of permitted capacity or 100 people, whichever was less.

To that, Kouzounas said, “These limits have already had a devastating impact on small businesses, resulting in businesses from Kittery to Fort Kent to have to close their doors for good. By reinstating these restrictions and levying new mandates for the people of Maine, Janet Mills is leading our state toward economic ruin."

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said in a tweet that the current degree of community transmission in Maine “means that face coverings and physical distancing are more important than ever.”

"Why do I worry? Today's community transmission can become tomorrow's outbreaks in places like nursing homes," Shah said. "We all need to do our part to keep them safe."