Portland’s decision to drop a citywide indoor mask mandate only a month after its passage caused a mix of disappointment, acceptance and relief among residents and business owners Tuesday.

The City Council voted 7-2 Monday to rescind its requirement that people wear masks in most indoor public places. The rule was adopted in early January and now will end on Feb. 17.

Maine is seeing a decline in hospitalizations and 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.

The mask mandate the council passed on Jan. 3 called for the ordinance to be reviewed every 30 days. Most councilors and Mayor Kate Snyder said Monday that the latest data factored into their decisions to support repealing the mandate.

“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 told the council.

But some who live, work or shop in Portland said the city’s reversal may have come too soon.


“I guess I’d rather see it in place,” Eric Edmonds, of Westbrook, said while shopping in Portland on Tuesday. “I don’t think we’re far enough on the way to herd immunity.”

Edmonds, who wore a mask to shop at Hannaford, said that to minimize his risk of getting or spreading coronavirus he probably will continue wearing a mask to the store even when it’s no longer required.

“I’d rather err on the side of caution,” he said.

Portland resident Deborah Donovan, a nurse at Maine Medical Center, said that up until a few days ago, her medical/surgical unit had been converted into a ward for COVID-19 patients.

Seeing the effects of the virus up close, “I take the pandemic seriously,” she said.

Despite the dropping case numbers, Donovan was sorry to see the council rescind the mask requirement.


“We can’t know for sure that we’re out of the woods yet, and wearing a mask is the least we can do,” she said. “I still think that a mask mandate is essential at this point. You let your guard down, and the next thing you know, cases are going up again.”


Rick Tucker, president of Maine Hardware on St. John Street, said he has lost customers because of the city’s indoor masking requirement. He said some customers told him they opted for hardware stores in other municipalities so they could avoid having to put on a mask.

Brunswick, Freeport, Bath and South Portland joined Portland in adopting mask ordinances in the past few weeks as the omicron variant of COVID-19 surged. Other communities, including Belfast and Bangor, considered but ultimately decided against requiring masks in indoor public spaces.

Tucker said now that the spread of the virus appears to be waning, it’s time to drop the mask requirement. He said his store will continue to insist that shoppers wear masks until the mandate is officially lifted on Feb. 17, but he’s “looking forward” to seeing the requirement lapse.

Dock Fore, a small bar on Fore Street, has been asking patrons for proof of vaccination instead of requiring masks, but it intends to stop as soon as the mandate ends.


The city’s rule allowed businesses to avoid enforcing mask-wearing if customers were required instead to show proof of vaccination. Other bars also required the vaccinations to avoid having to spend nights policing mask-wearing among patrons.

“The world eventually has to get back to normal,” Dock Fore owner Shaun McCarthy said. “Will it be the same normal? Probably not, but we can’t go on like this forever.”

Business was slow the first week of the mandate, but McCarthy wasn’t sure if that was because of the new requirements, the cold weather or “dry January” – a social movement to reduce or eliminate drinking during the first month of the year. However, some regulars told him they’d go elsewhere until it changed.

“I had a bunch of customers say, ‘Sorry, nothing personal, but I’m going … where we don’t have to wear a mask,'” he said.

Generally, it will be a relief not to have to police the rules and deal with the few people who loudly refused to follow them, McCarthy said.

“Unfortunately, there are people who just don’t know how to act right,” he said.



Steve DiMillo Jr., events manager for DiMillo’s on the Water, said he has no issue with the City Council voting to end the indoor mask mandate.

“I think the numbers are trending in the right direction,” he said, referring to COVID-19 hospitalizations.

DiMillo is confident that the staff at his waterfront restaurant will adapt as they have throughout the pandemic to another change in mask-wearing regulations.

“Our staff has gotten pretty used to all the changes,” he said. “After all, we’ve been doing this for almost two years. We’ll just continue to go day by day.”

Amy Marchessault, managing partner at Flatbread Company Inc. on Commercial Street, said she hasn’t had time to meet with her staff to evaluate the impact of the council’s decision to make mask-wearing voluntary.


Marchessault said the decision will likely put more pressure on her employees, who have been doing their best to comply with city mandates.

“We are doing the best we can,” she said. “We are all in the trenches together.”

Raina Levine, manager of Treehouse Toys on Exchange Street, said her employees have asked her to keep the store’s masking requirement, although she hasn’t yet made a decision.

“I have heard, already, concerns for the difficulty that will arise when we don’t have the (city) mandate to cite,” she said.

However, the city requirement didn’t end the difficulties that were sometimes encountered when employees tried to enforce the mask rule, Levine said.

“It only goes so far anyway,” she said. “The people who don’t want to wear a mask don’t care who’s telling them to wear one.”


Coffee By Design’s three Portland locations are likely to require masks for at least a little longer after the city mandate drops, owner Mary Allen Lindemann said. She intends to consult with staff and managers about their comfort level with changing store policies right away.

“We are not just talking about our safety as a staff,” she said. “We have long-term customers, we have first-time customers, (and) we want to ensure their safety when they are with us.”

Lindemann said the council’s vote was not surprising. The city presented convincing evidence that the threat is receding.

“We are so close to going from a pandemic to an endemic – just be patient while we all sort of navigate this time,” Lindemann said. “It might mean you have to wear a mask a little while longer.”

Donovan, the Portland nurse, said she wears a mask or protective gear for hours while at the hospital. While she was heartened to see everyone wearing masks while she was out shopping Tuesday, she’s baffled by those who refuse to wear one.

Donovan said she asks them a simple question:

“Would you want your surgeon not to wear a mask in the operating room?”

Staff Writers Dennis Hoey, Peter McGuire and Rachel Ohm contributed to this report.

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