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Maine Will Soon Follow CDC Guidance Allowing Vaccinated People To Go Without Masks Indoors

Customers wear face masks as they enter Picos Mexican restaurant Wednesday, March 10, 2021, in Houston.
David J. Phillip
Customers wear face masks as they enter Picos Mexican restaurant Wednesday, March 10, 2021, in Houston.

Maine will soon follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow those who are fully vaccinated to stop wearing masks in most indoor places.

The new rules go into effect on May 24 and mark a departure from mask guidelines that Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday.

Thursday's guidelines were announced around the same time that the U.S. CDC said that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in outdoor or indoor settings with the exception of airplanes, airports and other modes of public transport.

The Mills administration's rules released Thursday retained a mask mandate for indoor spaces.

But Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah now says the state is adopting the more lenient federal guidelines because studies continue to show that the three vaccines available in the U.S. are nearly 100% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths, and emerging data showing that it's rare that vaccinated people can pass on the virus to the unvaccinated.

Shah also says that aligning with the federal guidelines could act as an incentive for Maine residents to get their shots.

"While I hope it operates for some folks and provides an incentive, it's not the crux of the reason. The crux of the reason to move in this direction is ever increasing amounts of data that show that the vaccine is effective for the person who receives it, as well as effective at preventing that person from spreading it to others," Shah said.

The federal guidelines recommend that unvaccinated people continue to wear masks in indoor settings. The same applies to children under the age of 12 who are not yet authorized to receive the three COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S.

However, many have expressed concern that some of those unvaccinated people will not be truthful and ditch their masks anyway.

The Mills administration says businesses and other organizations may continue to adopt policies for their employees or clients that require vaccination, or proof of it, in order to avoid wearing a mask.

But Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew says the state has no plans to require businesses to implement such policies through emergency orders or enforcement.

"The vast majority of people in Maine now have the opportunity to get vaccinated. There's no reasons why people who are over the age of 12 can't get a vaccine at this point. So we are to a point where both our public health protocols are shifting as well as our enforcement strategy. We just don't need to do what we used to do because we're in a better place," Lambrew says.

The governor Thursday also accelerated her reopening plan in advance of the upcoming tourist season.

She announced that performing arts venues, movie theaters, sporting venues, restaurants with outdoor seating and other businesses could return to full capacity beginning May 24. Originally that was the date that businesses could open to 75% capacity.

State health officials reported 305 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death Friday. Cases of the diseases are trending downward, while Maine's vaccination rate among its 1.3 million residents has climbed to just over 46%.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.