AUGUSTA, Maine — In May, Gov. Janet Mills signed an Executive Order mandating that face coverings must be worn when out in public, effective May 1. Mills is taking measures a step further and says she will be signing a new order that will require public-facing businesses in coastal Maine towns to enforce this policy.
Mills said Wednesday that large retail stores, lodging establishments, restaurants, and outdoor bars and tasting rooms in the coastal counties of Hancock, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Cumberland, and York, and in the more populous cities of Bangor and Brewer and Lewiston and Auburn will need to enforce the State’s face covering policy that’s already in place.
“In the last week, states across the country, such as North Carolina, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon, have implemented similar strong measures related to face coverings, given the evidence that masks significantly reduce transmission of the virus,” Mills said in a statement.
Mills said the Executive Order reinforces the protocols that businesses should take in order to reopen. She said this requirement will be added to the COVID-19 Prevention Checklists businesses must follow in order to reopen.
Face coverings are largely considered the simplest way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets—produced by coughing, sneezing, talking, and raised voices—the droplets can land on people nearby or be inhaled into the lungs. Because of this, wearing cloth face coverings in public settings, especially when social distancing is difficult to maintain, is the most likely way to reduce the spread.
“Maine people should be proud of our successes to date, but residents and visitors alike must remain vigilant by wearing face coverings and practicing physical distancing and good hand hygiene,” Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) said.
The CDC recognizes that wearing face coverings may not be possible in every situation for some people. However, exemptions for wearing face coverings, such as for medical conditions, vary from state to state. In Maine, face coverings are not required for children under the age of 2, for anyone who has trouble breathing or related medical conditions, or those who are otherwise unable to remove masks without assistance.
In the original Executive Order that requires face masks, Mills says, "A person who cannot wear a cloth face covering because of a medical condition is not required to produce medical documentation of the condition, provided that an employer may require such documentation from an employee in accordance with state and federal law."
Still, requiring face masks has been a Constitutional debate amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some businesses worry denying customers for not wearing face coverings will cause pushback from their customers and could even result in lawsuits.
Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”), medical conditions are protected under the act’s privacy laws. So, businesses can ask if a medical condition is the reason wearing a face covering isn’t possible, but not what the condition is.
Lindsey Crete, the press secretary for Mills, told NEWS CENTER Maine, "The Governor recognizes that some people cannot wear a face covering for medical reasons, and businesses should be able to ask whether it is a medical reason that is preventing them from doing so."
“I have said repeatedly, we will continue to remain vigilant against this virus, and Maine people and visitors, as well as businesses and facilities operators, must take every step to protect themselves, their customers, and others around them,” Mills said. “Especially seeing the dangerous trends in southern and southwestern states after they lifted restrictions dramatically, we have to take this virus seriously, and we must continue to protect one another.”
Goldman Sachs economists suggest mandating face coverings would “likely increase face mask usage meaningfully,” which would slow the spread and thus have a positive impact on the economy.
"If a face mask mandate meaningfully lowers coronavirus infections, it could be valuable not only from a public health perspective but also from an economic perspective because it could substitute for renewed lockdowns that would otherwise hit GDP," the researchers wrote.
The Governor's Office says it is working on the Executive Order, with the guidance and input of the Attorney General’s Office to clarify any legal issues, and intends to issue it in the coming days.
At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus
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