A sign indicating Brunswick’s indoor mask mandate posted outside of Joshua’s Restaurant and Tavern. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

SOUTH PORTLAND — Due to the recent surge of COVID-19, an emergency mask mandate went into effect in South Portland beginning Monday, Jan. 24. Public buildings will require masks in an effort to curb the spread of the Omicron variant. The CDC recommends that people ages 2 and older wear a mask when social distancing isn’t possible in a crowded indoor or outdoor public setting.

City councilors held a workshop on Jan. 18 to discuss the proposal to institute a citywide indoor mask mandate similar to Portland and Brunswick. After the councilors voted, City Manager Scott Morelli issued an emergency face covering mask mandate.

“A couple of weeks ago a city councilor had requested that the topic of a mask mandate be brought up at one of the council meetings,” Morelli said. “It finally got on the agenda last week at this time and the councilors held a workshop, they talked about it, they expressed concern about the spread of COVID, the rise in the number of cases, the overwhelming of medical facilities, and things of that nature. Six out of the seven councilors that were present supported the implementation of a mask mandate that applied to all public buildings with very limited exceptions. In some ways this is similar to what Portland, Brunswick and other communities have done.”

As of Jan. 24, people ages 2 and older must wear face coverings when inside public places. Business must post “mask required” or “face coverings required” that are visible to the public starting Jan. 26. Masks will still be required even if a business also require proof of vaccination. The mandate applies to public buildings that includes gyms, restaurants, transportation services including buses or taxis. People will be allowed to remove face covering temporarily to eat or drink once seated. The mandate does not apply to public preschool or K-12 school buildings and does not apply to children younger than 2, people who have a hard time breathing, or those who are alone in a public building.

“There are some deviations, for example we don’t allow exemptions if someone is vaccinated to be able to not wear a mask, whereas in other communities, business can choose to limit there client to those who are only vaccinated and then non of them have to wear a mask,” Morelli said. “We just chose to say that everyone can carry it and everyone can spread it so the masks are required for everyone. Of course there are some exemptions medical, kids 2 and under, someone who ends up having a hard time breathing due to a medical condition they can take it off.”

The mask mandate will stay in effect until the city manager or the mayor terminates the emergency proclamation, or until the COVID cases for Cumberland County drops to a moderate low or low transition for 10 consecutive days.

“What we have written into the mandate is that we will cancel the mandate when the CDC case counts for Cumberland County are no longer in either the high or the substantial levels,” Morelli said. “As soon as it gets to the moderate or low transmission we will cancel it. There may be other metrics that the CDC says this is the better way to figure out when masks should and shouldn’t be required or recommended and if they update their guidance we will use that.”

South Portland announced Monday that the city will provide free face coverings to businesses and organizations to help ensure compliance to the mask mandate. Businesses can go to the Hamlin Building gymnasium between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 27 to pick up supplies up to three boxes of masks and five posters. Hamlin Building is located at 496 Ocean St.

For more information on the mask mandate, visit the city of South Portland website. As of Tuesday, there was no statewide mask mandate.

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