Portland city councilors and Mayor Kate Snyder cited several reasons why they moved to end a mask mandate for indoor public places this week, about a month after the mandate went into effect.

“Certainly the peak of omicron and the reduction in positivity rates and cases is a factor,” Snyder said Tuesday. “These decisions are never based on one thing. There’s the hospitalization rate, the positivity rate, the data having to do with COVID generally in Cumberland County.”

In addition to recent COVID data suggesting the mid-January peak from the omicron variant is on the decline, Snyder also said community feedback, especially from small businesses, and the need to figure out a way to live with new variants went into her decision to join the majority of the City Council on Monday in voting 7-2 to repeal the mask mandate. The repeal takes effect Feb. 17.

The decision comes as hospitalizations statewide dropped to 319 Tuesday – down from a peak of 436 on Jan. 13. The number of patients in intensive care was 75 – a 44 percent drop from the peak of 133 ICU patients on Dec. 19.

“The argument before was we needed to give hospitals relief because the hospitalizations were at historic levels, and it’s dropped 25 percent,” said Councilor Tae Chong, who also voted to lift the mandate.

From Jan. 5, the day the ordinance took effect, through Feb. 2, Portland received more than 100 complaints about lack of compliance with the mask mandate, according to a memo to councilors from public health staff prior to the vote. A total of 77 complaints were submitted through the city’s SeeClickFix mobile and web app, and another 25 complaints were by phone or email.


Those weren’t all unique complaints. Some businesses received more than one complaint, and in some cases a person who submitted a complaint through SeeClickFix called or emailed to follow up.

According to the memo, the city’s health officer worked with businesses to resolve complaints by reaching out and inquiring whether they were aware of the ordinance, making sure they had proper signs and asking if they were having trouble getting customers to comply. Businesses that received more than one complaint also got in-person visits to determine areas for improvement.

Violating the ordinance can result in a fine of up to $500, though city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said Monday that no fines have been levied.

Some councilors had expressed concerns about the difficulty of enforcement.

“Originally when we talked about the mask mandate, I voted no because of the enforceability,” said Councilor Mark Dion. “Then I joined the majority because they said it would be limited and we would reassess the necessity for the ban within a very short time frame. Last night I said it again: Enforceability is a flaw.”

Dion said that while the city can follow up with businesses and help them come into compliance, he believes it’s been much more difficult to enforce the mandate with patrons. “If I’m a business and I have three customers come in – one is masked, two are not – I address those customers and it turns into a negative interaction,” he said. “What comes of that? I can get a fine because I don’t have signage or my mask on, but what do they get? Nothing.”


The council still is expected to take up a proposal from Councilor Victoria Pelletier calling for a hazard pay wage of 1½ times the minimum wage to kick in when a mask mandate is in effect.

Some businesses have expressed opposition to that idea, but councilors said Tuesday that the prospect of a hazard pay proposal tied to the mask mandate wasn’t something that factored into their votes. “I would not have voted any differently last night on the masking requirement if this hazard pay proposal that’s tying into the newly adopted mask ordinance was not at play,” Snyder said. “I really think it’s important to separate those two things.”

The council is expected to vote on the hazard pay proposal Feb. 28, Pelletier said, but a hazard pay workshop that’s scheduled for Monday may be put on hold.

“I still look forward to pursuing the hazard pay conversation,” Pelletier said. “I think it’s a topic that’s been conveniently left out of a lot of discussions we’ve been having the last few months. … I think we owe it to the essential workers of Portland who have been showing up for us in a pandemic to have this conversation and a fair vote.”

Pelletier said that while COVID numbers are trending in a good direction, she voted against repealing the mask mandate because she felt it was too soon. “The numbers are worse than they were back when this was originally talked about in October,” Pelletier said. “Hazard pay will always be temporary. I want to ensure we’re doing what we can to protect one another.”

Some councilors said Tuesday that they hadn’t gotten much feedback on the vote to repeal the mask mandate. A Portland charter commissioner, however, expressed her dissatisfaction on social media.


“Where are the ‘progressives’ we elected?” wrote Commissioner Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef on Twitter. “It seemed like Pious Ali, April Fournier, and Roberto Rodriguez, who (are) at-large, are very comfortable throwing us under the bus. And that, I’ll be happy to return the favor to eliminate at-large seats.”

Ali did not respond to phone messages Tuesday asking about his vote and Sheikh-Yousef’s tweet. Fournier, who said she was at work Tuesday morning and would be unreachable most of the day, did not respond to a text message about the tweet. Rodriguez, in a text message, said he had no comment other than that he is no longer active on Twitter and Sheikh-Yousef would have better luck calling him directly.

In an interview, Sheikh-Yousef said she was disappointed by the council decision to repeal the mask mandate, both because she supports the mandate itself and because of the repeal’s implications for hazard pay. She later apologized on Twitter for singling out the three councilors she named.

“The reason I spoke about those three is because I am close to them,” Sheikh-Yousef said in the interview. “I am friends with them. I know they have made a promise to me and the residents in Portland that they would protect us and do as much as they can to help us with this pandemic and the virus – and that was a big stab in the back.”

As a charter commissioner, Sheikh-Yousef said it has always been her intent to look at eliminating at-large council seats, and she said Monday’s vote was an example of why. “That showed me they are not considering the whole Portland and somehow they’re considering a small amount of people,” Sheikh-Yousef said.

In a second tweet Tuesday, she said elected officials need to do more to hold each other accountable. “We need to see more elected officials holding other elected officials accountable,” she wrote. “Those who are the same party, race/ethnicity, friends, etc. I cannot be the only person who is doing that.”

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