An indoor mask mandate for public places in Portland takes effect Wednesday following unanimous approval by the City Council on Monday night. The mandate comes as Maine continues to see elevated COVID-19 caseloads and braces for the rise of the omicron variant.

What does the ordinance say?

The mask ordinance requires all people entering public buildings in the city to wear coverings over their noses and mouths. A public building is any building or portion of a building that’s regularly accessible to the general public. That does not include private homes or residential units; public schools, which fall under the jurisdiction of the school board and are already requiring masks indoors and on school buses; and churches and other places of worship.

Other exceptions are office spaces where the occupants are separated from the general public and portions of theaters, gyms and athletic arenas where participants all have been vaccinated and there is either space, a physical barrier or ventilation separating them from the general public.

Face coverings also must be worn when using or operating public transportation, including buses, trains, taxis, ride shares, vehicles for hire and any other ride services.

Who needs to wear a mask?

The mandate applies to everyone ages 2 and up, although there are exceptions for people with medical conditions that are complicated or irritated by a face covering and anyone who is having difficulty breathing or is incapacitated. A person who is alone in a public building is also not required to wear a mask.

Is there an exception at businesses that require proof of COVID-19 vaccination?

Yes. Businesses that check for vaccination and limit admission to those who’ve shown proof of vaccination do not have to require masks indoors.

Who is considered vaccinated?

The city is using the definition of fully vaccinated from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency currently considers people fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine such as the Johnson & Johnson shot.

Can businesses require both masks and vaccines?

Yes, businesses can require both. The ordinance is focused on masks but the city’s director of health and human services said Monday that a multipronged approach involving both masks and vaccinations is ideal. “It’s important to remember no one single measure will mitigate COVID-19 and all the strategies must be used together if we’re going to see a successful decline in numbers,” HHS Director Kristen Dow told the council.

Do businesses need to publicize the mask mandate?

Yes. The ordinance states that businesses and other public buildings that fall under the mandate must post signs, at their entrances and other appropriate locations such as back doors or cash registers, stating that people who enter are required to wear face coverings by order of the City Council. This must be done by Jan. 10.

Do I need to wear a mask at the gym? What about at a table in a restaurant?

The mandate does apply to gyms, although they could take advantage of the vaccine exception. In addition, if a gym has an area for fully vaccinated people separate from the general public, masks would not have to be worn in that area.

The ordinance also states that people may temporarily remove their masks “to participate in the primary purpose of the business, such as eating or drinking” at a restaurant. However, such removal must take place at an isolated location, such as a table or booth, and people must put their masks back on as soon as that activity is complete or if they move away from their isolated location.

Does the mandate apply to non-public spaces attached to public spaces, such as the garage of a mechanic shop with a customer waiting area or a grocery store stockroom?

The definition of “public building” in the ordinance refers to “any building or portion of a building within the city of Portland that is regularly accessible to the general public.” In these examples, if the garage area of the mechanic shop is not regularly accessible to the public, then that portion of the building or establishment would not constitute a “public building” subject to the mask requirement, though the customer area would be. The same would be true for the grocery store stockroom or other work areas where members of the public are not present.

Will musicians and actors need to be masked at entertainment venues?

It depends. If all performers or actors are vaccinated and separated from the audience by space, a physical barrier or ventilation they will not need to be masked. Theaters and performance spaces, like other public buildings, also can avoid making everyone wear masks by requiring proof of vaccination for all who enter.

How will the mandate be enforced?

Businesses are the “first line of defense” in enforcement of the mandate, the city said in a news release Tuesday, although the city also has a local health officer who has been appointed as a constable to enforce the ordinance. “That person will start with education to achieve compliance in response to any complaints,” the city said. The health officer also will have the ability to issue notices of violations, which can carry summonses to appear in court.

What is the penalty for a violation and for repeat violations?

Violation of the ordinance is a civil violation subject to penalty as spelled out in Section 1-15 of the City Code of Ordinances. The code states that violation of any city ordinance is punishable by a fine of $100 to $500 per offense. However, the city’s primary focus will be on education and voluntary compliance, a spokesperson said.

“Ideally, businesses and individuals alike will comply voluntarily and the need to issue tickets and impose fines will be limited,” city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said in an email.

How do I report a business or individual that’s failing to comply?

People can submit compliance complaints via the SeeClickFix mobile or web app, or by sending an email to [email protected]

Is the city doing anything to provide masks to businesses?

Yes. City staff are in the process of ordering surgical masks and window decals that will be available soon for businesses that need them. The city doesn’t have a delivery date for the masks yet, but will communicate with businesses as soon as more details are available, Grondin said.

The city also is updating its “masks required” posters and window decal signage and businesses will be able to download digital versions from the staythecourse.me website and/or pick up window decals next week.

How long will the mandate last?

The council will review the ordinance every 30 days and vote to rescind or extend the mask mandate for another 30 days. The city manager also has the ability to issue an executive order suspending the mandate if the seven-day average of new cases for Cumberland County drops to the U.S. CDC’s “moderate” transmission level for a period of 10 consecutive days.

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