Maine tightens mask requirements amid surge

By Christian Wade | The Center Square

Gov. Janet Mills has beefed up the state’s mask mandate with new restrictions that allow businesses to deny service to people who don’t cover their face, but the move faces opposition from Republicans who say it goes too far.

Mills signed an executive order Friday requiring patrons of retail businesses in the state to wear face coverings and giving store owners the authority to deny service to anyone who doesn’t comply with the rules. Violators face fines of $1,000 or 180 days in jail.

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Maine Gov. Janet Mills

Under the state’s existing mask mandate, Mainers were allowed to claim a medical exemption as a reason for not covering their face in public. Mills’ new order closes that loophole.

“Short of closing businesses and schools and requiring people to stay home, which is the last thing I want to do, especially during the holidays, we are running out of available public health tools to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Maine,” Mills said in a statement. “Hospitalizations are on the rise, more people are getting sick, and more people are dying,”

“We know masks can stop the spread. But we need people to wear them,” Mills added.

But the move was panned by the state’s Republican leaders, who say it goes too far.

“There is great concern with having small business workers, in some cases teenagers, charged with ensuring compliance with executive orders,” House Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, said in a statement. “Placing such a burden on employees who are not trained in this area and forcing them into situations of conflict can compromise an individuals mental health and safety.”

Senate Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Androscoggin, said he too was concerned the new mandate would lead to confrontations, particularly in rural sections of the state.

“I am scared to death for the average people who are running little general stores, often alone, who must now confront customers who may already be stressed out over the pandemic when they walk in the door,” Timberlake said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Republicans lawmakers have filed a joint resolution in the GOP-controlled Senate and House that seeks to end the governor’s emergency declaration. The resolution calls for public hearings and legislative approval of a new coronavirus response.

“These actions are a sincere effort to give the Maine people a voice by involving the entire legislature in shaping sensible, evidence-based, scientific policies to protect Maine without destroying more lives, our way of life, or our economy,” state Rep. Peter Lyford, R, Eddington, said in the party’s weekly radio address. “Faith in our government’s ability to respond to the challenges of coronavirus cannot be restored, maintained or enhanced without a true bipartisan response and shared decision-making.”

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