The Portland City Council officially voted down an indoor mask-wearing mandate in public settings after having previously deadlocked on the issue.

The move came after councilors unanimously approved a resolution sponsored by Mayor Kate Snyder calling on the city to redouble its public education and outreach, encouraging residents, businesses and visitors to do everything possible to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Snyder, who opposed the mandate, framed the resolution as an alternative to an indoor mask mandate that city officials said would be difficult to enforce.

“This resolution is not a perfect solution to the problems we face as a community,” Snyder said. “But it is, I believe, a step in the right direction and can bring us together in our communication to the community.”

Portland began discussing a mask mandate in August, when Maine and the rest of the country were seeing a surge in new cases caused by the delta variant. The council deadlocked on the mandate two weeks ago in a 4-4 vote. The vote occurred on the same night that City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau resigned from his District 2 seat to take a job with the U.S. Department of Energy.

City Councilor Tae Chong, who previously advocated for the mask mandate, changed his position in light of the mayor’s resolution. He noted the difficulty that some of the 70 communities with mask mandates, like Salem, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia, have had with enforcement.


“That enforcement piece was really hard for other progressive cities across the U.S.,” Chong said. “So I will support this.”

The council approved a new emergency proclamation after removing the mask mandate. The change allows developers to hold neighborhood meetings online, rather than in person.

The council’s vote came a day after the Portland Democratic City Committee voted in support of a mandate – a move aimed at upping the pressure on the council. A mask mandate also was supported by the city’s public health officials.

Portland Democratic City Committee Chairman Charles Skold urged the council to pass a mandate “that would have more teeth,” given that Portland is such a popular destination with visitors. He was skeptical that an educational campaign alone would be enough.

“A public information campaign might miss some of the visitors who are here on a very temporary basis but who nonetheless contribute to the spread of COVID-19,” Skold said.

Portland would have been the only municipality in the state with a mandate.


It would have applied to anyone over the age of 2 and included restaurants, gyms, nail and hair salons, barbershops, retail stores and social clubs. Exemptions were proposed for music and theater performers while onstage, and for people actively eating or drinking in an establishment.

Brunswick considered enacting a local mandate but ultimately decided against it in light of Portland’s deadlock.

Councilors Pious Ali, April Fournier and Andrew Zarro stood firm in their support for a mandate.

Zarro said the educational campaign should be done in addition to a mask mandate.

“I don’t see this as an alternative to a mask mandate,” Zarro said. “I see the public educational campaign as an important step forward. I do want to be clear: I don’t think it’s enough on its own.”

Danielle West, the city’s corporation counsel, said that the council could bring back an amended version of the mask mandate at anytime, if circumstances change.


Snyder’s resolution states that city staff will undertake another educational campaign on social media, public service announcements and window signs to “strongly encourage all residents, businesses, and visitors to take precautionary measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19.”


Heading into the holiday and winter season, the resolution urges people to do eight things: get vaccinated, wear a mask indoors or when close to others, stay 6 feet from people who don’t live in your household, avoid large crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, cover coughs and sneezes, clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily, and monitor your health daily for symptoms – including fever, cough, shortness of breath – and stay home if you’re sick.

Councilor Mark Dion said he supported the educational campaign over a mandate because it urged personal responsibility.

“I think that government works best when it seeks the voluntary compliance of our residents and businesses,” Dion said. 

Fournier, who said she was awaiting results of her 13th coronavirus test because her son was exposed, said that personal responsibility alone isn’t getting it done.

“If we could rely on personal responsibility we would have seen a much higher vaccination rate earlier this year when they became available,” she said.

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