Masked customers wait to place orders Tuesday at the Food Court at the Maine Maine Mall in South Portland. The city’s new mask mandate will be in place until the COVID-19 transmission rate is downgraded.  Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

Following a vote by the City Council Tuesday, South Portland’s mask mandate will stay in effect until Cumberland County’s transmission rate of COVID-19 falls to 10-50 cases per 100,000 people and stays that way for 10 consecutive days.

A low COVID transmission rate is considered by the CDC to be no more than 10 cases per 100,000 people, while moderate is considered 10 to 50 cases per 100,000. Cumberland County now has a high transmission rate, with 100 or more cases per 100,000.

Face masks are required in all public indoor settings in the city, but there will be no fines issued to non-compliers and no city staff designated to enforcing the rule, leaving the enforcement to businesses.

The council voted 5-2 Tuesday to extend the mayor’s emergency proclamation, which is needed to enact a mask mandate. Councilors Linda Cohen and Katherine Lewis opposed the mandate.

“I didn’t support this last week, and I haven’t changed my mind,”  Cohen said. “Especially after having heard from some of the businesses in town that are struggling already, I just don’t want to put this on the businesses at this time.”

Lewis was also concerned about the city’s businesses.


“I am worried about how difficult this might be for some of the small businesses and particularly how it may hit some of the small businesses,” she said. “I tried to get this across last week by requesting strongly that there be an exception for businesses that require vaccines, or gyms, for example.”

The city of Portland’s mask mandate provides exemptions to businesses that require patrons’ proof of vaccination, but South Portland’s does not.

Portland also regularly reviews its mandate, Lewis said.

She proposed that South Portland City Manager Scott Morelli provide the council with a monthly update, beginning Feb. 22, until the emergency proclamation is terminated. The council approved the measure 6-1 with Mayor Deqa Dhalac opposed.

Dhalac said the emergency proclamation could end by the time the council receives its first report.

“Infections are going down, that’s for sure in Cumberland County,” she said.


From Jan. 15-24, the seven-day average number of cases in the county dropped from 289 to 220. However, it spiked back up to 280 on Jan. 25.

Councilor Jocelyn Leighton said most businesses in her district, District 1, which includes the Ferry Village and Willard Beach areas, approve of the mandate.

“I’ve received more support for the mask mandate than I have for opposition to this,” Leighton said. “I’ve called small businesses in my district … the support for this mandate is overwhelmingly more than the opposition.

Dhalac said many local businesses had mask requirements in place prior to the mandate.

“We cannot say that we’re really disrupting the economy for the city or the state,” she said.

In an effort to ensure compliance, the council will use a portion of a $100,000 allocation from their American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide masks and signs for businesses. Councilors unanimously approved the allocation Tuesday.


“We checked in with Portland to see how many (masks) they purchased,” Morelli said. “They purchased 50,000. We didn’t think we need that many.”

South Portland will order 25,000 surgical masks, which comes out to roughly $5,000, he said.

As of Wednesday, businesses were required to post notices informing patrons that masks must be worn inside. The city will pay to print some signs, but a copy of the city’s official notice is also available online for businesses to download and print.

The rest of the $100,000 allocation will go toward test kits and any other supplies the city may need to purchase for businesses and the public in response to the pandemic.

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