Kathleen Bergeron of Waterboro stands on Old Orchard Beach on Friday. Despite relaxed coronavirus safety measures, Bergeron plans to keep wearing her mask. Still, she supports the state’s decision to loosen restrictions because of the positive impact she believes it will have on mental health. Hannah LaClaire/Staff Writer

After a year of loss, Kathleen Bergeron isn’t ready to take off her mask.

Gov. Janet Mills announced on Friday that Maine will align with the new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which allows those who are fully vaccinated to forgo masks in indoor public settings.

The new state rules will go into effect May 24.

Maine also is lifting physical distancing requirements at indoor public settings where people are removing their masks to eat or drink, such as restaurants, bars, congregate living facilities and break rooms. The Mills administration had removed the requirement for outdoor masking in public areas on April 27. The U.S. CDC is still requiring people to wear masks when taking public transportation, such as at airports and on planes and buses.

Mainers, ready to return to some form of normalcy after more than a year of restrictions, were excited about the announcement Friday, but many expressed hesitation to shed their masks immediately.

“Maine is ahead of the curve, but it’s still new, we don’t know everything (about the virus),” Bergeron said. “I’m personally more comfortable when people wear masks.”

After dealing with loss this year, both personal and professional, wearing a mask feels like her way to do her part to protect other people, she said.

That said, Bergeron, who works with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is excited to help her clients get back out into the community as the state starts to reopen.

It’s a crucial piece for mental health and is a step in the right direction.

“People are ready,” she said. “People who are still of high risk will continue to take precautions, but we do need to move forward and get opened up. It’s important for those who can, to resume their way of life.”

Judy Carl of Portland enjoys a maskless afternoon on the Eastern Promenade on Friday. She said it will likely be some time before she feels ready to go into a grocery store without a mask. “I don’t think we should ever let our guard down,” she said. Hannah LaClaire/Staff Writer

Portland resident Judy Carl couldn’t agree more.

“I think it’s great, it’s really going to help people’s attitudes,” she said. “Everyone was getting so tired and cranky. I believe this is a very healthy sign for all of us.”

Carl enjoyed a maskless afternoon outside on Portland’s Eastern Promenade on Friday, but said she doesn’t think she’s ready to go into stores or other crowded public places just yet.

“I don’t think we should ever let our guard down,” she said, noting variants and statewide case numbers still in the hundreds. “I don’t think it’s going away.”

State health officials reported 305 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death on Friday, but numbers are trending downward.

Amos Cooper and Stephanie Heinz, both of Portland, said they’re concerned about the state’s decision to loosen restrictions. It feels safer to continue with masks, Cooper said, especially since it’s hard to know whether someone is, in fact, vaccinated. Hannah LaClaire/Staff Writer

Still, Amos Cooper and Stephanie Heinz, both of Portland, aren’t ready to free their faces yet, either.

With a few days left until both are considered fully vaccinated, the pair wore masks in the park on Friday and said they will likely do so indoors for the foreseeable future, at the very least to signal to other people that they’re taking the virus seriously.

Heinz, who works at a bookstore, has a lot of concerns about the relaxed regulations. The store has been closed to the public since the start of the pandemic and will remain so until the staff is vaccinated and feels safe, she said. But with the changes, “the onus, or the danger, is still on retail workers,” she said.

Cooper shared similar concerns.

“It’s hard to tell” who is vaccinated, he said. “We have those cards, but they say it’s easy to forge them. … It just feels safer to wear masks.”

Mills’ announcement offered no rules for businesses regarding whether or how they should attempt to enforce mask-wearing for staff or customers who are not vaccinated.

Heinz also expressed frustration over seemingly contradictory messages from federal officials.

Earlier this month, health experts announced that reaching herd immunity in the U.S. is unlikely. Two weeks later, restrictions were relaxed, and vaccination demand in many places is starting to fall.

Roger Roy of Lyman sits in downtown Biddeford on Friday. Roy, who believes the pandemic has been exaggerated, is ready to be rid of masks. He wears one only if he’s asked. “We have to get back to normal,” he said. Hannah LaClaire/Staff Writer

Roger Roy of Lyman, though, is more than ready to see restrictions loosen.

“We have to get back to normal,” he said while running errands in Biddeford.

“It’s ridiculous – enough is enough,” said his wife, Linda, adding that they’ve had to put a big trip on hold for two years because of the pandemic.

Roy believes the pandemic has been exaggerated – that deaths that might ordinarily be attributed to heart attacks or suicides are being blamed on COVID-19 as a way to get more federal money. That belief has been widely debunked.

He said at this point, he doesn’t wear a mask unless someone asks him to. He and his wife are both fully vaccinated.

“People are tired of it,” Roy said about the pandemic. “They’re not listening anymore.”

Jeana O’Malley, owner of J’s All American Hot Dogs, sells hot dogs outside Biddeford City Hall on Friday. O’Malley is ready for the world to start opening back up, and says that as safety measures are relaxed it is even more important for people to get vaccinated. “The onus is on the unvaccinated,” she said. Hannah LaClaire/Staff Writer

Vaccines are the key to getting out of this mess, said Jeanna O’Malley, an Old Orchard Beach resident.

Manning her hot dog stand, J’s All American Hot Dogs outside of the Biddeford City Hall, she said that with both doses of the vaccine (a big decision for the needle-phobic O’Malley) she’s feeling ready to move forward.

“I wish everyone would just get vaccinated – it would solve everything,” she said. It’s unfortunate that the issue has become highly political, she said, but this change should “put the onus on the unvaccinated.”

Everyone else should be able to move freely about the country as long as they follow CDC guidelines, she said.

John Kerrigan, Linda Thomas and their dog, Bella, enjoy a walk on Bay View Beach in Saco on Friday. Kerrigan and Thomas, Vermont residents, are on vacation and said they’ve been impressed with Maine’s diligence so far. It feels too soon to fully reopen, Thomas said. Hannah LaClaire/Staff Writer

John Kerrigan and Linda Thomas, both Vermont residents, were on vacation in Maine Friday.

Strolling down Bay View Beach in Saco with lab mix, Bella, just an hour before Mills’ announcement, they said they were impressed with Maine’s cautious approach to the pandemic.

Kerrigan, who is vaccinated, said he’s comfortable walking down a quiet beach without his mask on, but he doesn’t feel ready to eat in a crowded restaurant or otherwise go indoors with a lot of people.

“The cautious approach is best,” Thomas agreed.

Thomas has medical complications, and her doctor has advised her against receiving the vaccine at this point, so she has been especially diligent over the past year.

“It’s better safe than sorry,” Kerrigan said. “Follow the science.”


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