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After Maine Lifts Mask Mandate, Businesses Vary On Requiring Them

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Patty Wight
Maine Public
Khaled Habash, owner of The Blue Lobster in Freeport, with his kids Zinnia and Laith.

As of Monday, masks are no longer required in most settings in Maine.

It's the first time in a little more than a year that face coverings aren't broadly mandated, though it's still recommended that people who aren't vaccinated against COVID-19 wear them indoors.

That means most businesses can now decide independently whether to continue to require masks — and policies vary from place to place.

At the Blue Lobster gift shop in Freeport, owner Khaled Habash was grinning ear-to-ear Monday morning — the first time in about a year that customers could actually see his smile.

"I'm happy to not be wearing a mask today," he says.

Habash shed his mask because he's fully vaccinated.

The Blue Lobster is embracing the state's guidelines that allow people who are vaccinated to ditch their masks. Customers who walk into his store without a mask will get the benefit of the doubt.

He says he's thankful that the state lifted its mask mandate ahead of Memorial Day weekend. He thinks it's already given him an economic boost.

"We had our best weekend in almost two years this past weekend, so I think word has spread and people are making plans for the holiday weekend to come, which for Maine, is kind of the kick off to summer, which everyone knows," he says.

Across the street at L.L.Bean, the retail store will follow state guidelines for customers.

But employees will continue to wear masks and follow social distancing protocols until July 1st. That's to allow time for vaccination numbers to increase.

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Patty Wight
Maine Public
Ben Dunbar, co owner and general manager of Cool as a Moose, in the Portland store.

It's a similar strategy as at Cool as a Moose, a T-shirt and souvenir shop with a location in Portland.

Co-owner and general manager Ben Dunbar says staff will wear masks for at least two more weeks, until everyone is fully vaccinated. On Monday, he swapped out signs that said customers are required to wear masks for signs that say they're "preferred."

"We're masking internally and hoping customers will do the same for a little bit longer. I don't think everyone's quite ready to let go of the masks just quite yet, even if they are fully vaxxed," he says.

Dunbar says they're also encouraging everyone to wear masks because many of their customers are under the age of 12, and can't get vaccinated yet.

"It gets a little awkward. That's why for us, it's a preferred thing they do it," he says.

Up the street at Lisa-Marie's Made in Maine store, masks are not only preferred, they're still required.

Manager Barbora McCrillis says that could change, but for now, they're being cautious — especially because many of their customers visit from out of state.

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Patty Wight
Maine Public
Barbora McCrillis, manager of Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine Portland store.

"And where not every single state has had the same restrictions as Maine, that's kind of where we're coming from. A lot of them are coming from the south, and the mask rules down there have been very different. So again, it comes down to safety of everybody here. We've already had to shut down once and we don't want to do that again," McCrillis says.

While some businesses are promoting stricter safety measures than required, several chain retailers are adopting Maine's new guidelines which rely on an honor system for unvaccinated people to wear masks indoors.

That's the case for Hannaford, Walmart, and Target, as well as Marden's, where Craig Burgess is general manager.

"We have a sign at all of our doors that says we request unvaccinated people to wear a mask, but we're not doing any checking at all. So, in essence anyone who wants to come in without a mask can do that," he says.

There are some exceptions to Maine's new relaxed policy. Masks are still required in schools, day care, public transportation, and health care settings.

The different requirements have created some confusion.

Last week, MaineHealth issued a press release saying people were already arriving at hospitals and clinics asking why they should still wear masks and distance.

Chief Health Improvement Officer Dr. Dora Mills said in a written statement that masking and social distancing have been important tools during this crisis. And though Maine has made progress, it's not done yet.