The Portland City Council voted 7-2 Monday night to repeal the city’s indoor mask mandate for public places, a decision that will take effect in 10 days.

Councilors Andrew Zarro and Victoria Pelletier opposed the repeal, which came after Councilor Anna Trevorrow offered an amendment to a proposal the council was considering, to extend the mandate to March 7. Instead, Trevorrow suggested the council consider a repeal.

“My original thinking was, ‘Yes, the trends are going in the right direction but they’re still high,'” Trevorrow said. “I wasn’t quite ready to end the mask mandate today. But with the information that it won’t be effective for another 10 days, I think that resolves the issue for me because I think we’re going to continue on this trend.”

Maine is seeing a decline in hospitalizations and in positive test results submitted to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, though cases are still high. Some states are reconsidering mask rules, particularly in schools. On Monday, The Washington Post reported that governors in New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware will lift mask requirements for schools in the coming weeks.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder had sponsored an item on the council agenda for an extension of the mask mandate – which was put in effect Jan. 3 – through March 7, but said Monday night that she would support the repeal.

“I’m fully in support of taking measures to protect public health and all the work the city of Portland staff do daily to address the issues regarding community protection are important, but I do think we’re transitioning into a new place that forces us to figure out how we’re going to live with this thing,” Snyder said.


She encouraged the council to think about the local business community. “The dark days of winter are always difficult for our local business community, who are hanging on by a thread,” Snyder said. “I think there’s this constant balance of public health and the issues being faced by our local business community.”

On Monday, 327 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, a decline from the Jan. 13 peak of 436. On Jan. 3, the day the council voted to enact the mask mandate, 369 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Critical care utilization also has fallen, from 133 ICU patients on Dec. 19 to 79 on Monday, a 41 percent decrease. Still, the U.S. CDC continues to classify Cumberland County as an area of “high transmission.”

The council’s decision Monday comes shortly after Pelletier proposed an amendment to the city’s minimum wage ordinance calling for a hazard wage of 1½ times the minimum wage whenever the mask mandate is in effect.

Pelletier said she is worried that the council could be acting prematurely by eliminating the mask mandate. “Infection rates are going down, but they’re still high, and I’m worried we’ve normalized these impacts so much that when we see any lower trend of numbers, we just want to ditch the mask mandate,” she said. “The numbers are still significant. They’re lower but they’re still significant.”

A handful of people weighed in during public comment on the mask mandate Monday night. Resident Steven Scharf said the mask mandate is “useless” and encouraged the council to eliminate it. “At this point it is absolutely unnecessary to continue the mask mandate,” Scharf said.

Chris Bettera, owner of Po’ Boys and Pickles on Forest Avenue, said he supports the mask mandate but it has been difficult to enforce. “The issue for us seems to be the people who are refusing to wear them when they come in and their attitude towards our staff when that’s happening and when we’re enforcing the mask policy,” Bettera said.

“I’m asking again that you guys please consider some support be given to businesses that are doing their best to enforce the mandate,” Bettera said. “It costs us money to do this. It costs us a lot of harassment and it makes it more difficult to recruit staff.”

Some councilors said they are interested in revisiting the mandate if COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations start to increase again. “If we have another significant surge that is likely to impact public health, we are ready to address that and re-implement the strategies that we have available to us, having gone through implementing this mask mandate,” said Councilor April Fournier.

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