This week brought major changes to policies on when and where fully vaccinated individuals must wear masks indoors to protect against COVID-19. In response to federal recommendations, the Mills administration updated Maine’s policies again on Friday.

Here are answers to a few questions related to the changes. Have others? Email them to [email protected].

What are the new policies on masking?

Starting May 24, fully vaccinated people in Maine will no longer need to wear masks indoors or physically distance from others. Maine eliminated the outdoor masking requirement for everyone in April, so fully vaccinated individuals soon will be able to go maskless in most places. To be considered fully vaccinated, you must be at least 14 days beyond either the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna or the one-and-done shot produced by Johnson & Johnson.

Why May 24th?

That is when other changes to Maine’s COVID-19 policies dealing with capacity limits and physical distancing will take effect (see more on those below). Mills announced the changes Thursday, coincidentally at the same time that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out with its guidance that vaccinated people can stop wearing masks. So on Friday Mills said that, to be consistent, all of the changes will take effect at once.

Are there places where masks still will be required, even if you are fully vaccinated?

Yes. Federal rules still require everyone – regardless of inoculation status – to wear masks on buses, planes, trains and other forms of public transportation. The federal recommendations also recommend masking in correctional facilities and homeless shelters.

Additionally, hospitals and other health care settings will likely to continue to require masks for everyone. That is still the recommendation from the U.S. CDC.

“We are looking at the CDC guidelines, we are looking at the governor’s decision and are taking in that information but, currently, we are making no change to our protocols,” said John Porter, spokesman for MaineHealth, the state’s largest health care network.

How will businesses – or anyone – know whether a maskless person is fully vaccinated?

Simply put, many won’t.

The European Union is in the process of providing “digital green certificates” to attest to a person’s vaccination, and countries such as Israel require people to show their vaccination “green pass” in order to get into restaurants, clubs and other businesses.

But Maine does not currently have a “vaccine passport” that individuals can flash to prove their inoculation status. Nor do vaccine passports seem likely at either the state or federal level any time soon, if ever, given intense resistance from many who view such passports as a violation of privacy or leading to discrimination against people who have opted not to get vaccinated or who cannot, for whatever reason.

So essentially, everyone will be operating on the honor system. Public health officials have said they hope the prospect of being able to ditch your mask in public will incentivize more people to get their shots. It’s also likely that – during a pandemic with major political overtones in the United States – some unvaccinated people will seize on the ambiguity and ignore the state requirement that they continue masking up.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said that while it is tempting to come up with worst-case scenarios of unvaccinated people flouting the mask requirement, he noted that most people followed the rules on the initial mandate. And he believes that experience is instructive.

“I think it’s really important to bear in mind that, notwithstanding those concerns, we did a great job as a state,” Shah said.

I’m a business owner. What options do I have for ensuring unvaccinated people follow the rules on masking?

That is unclear.

Shah and Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said business owners should consult with their legal team. Industry sectors or trade groups also may offer guidance on the topic.

Mills is expected to issue an executive order on Maine’s revised masking policies that may, or may not, touch on enforcement. Currently, people who refuse to wear a mask in indoor public spaces, such as a grocery store, can be denied entry, asked to leave and even charged with trespassing by police if they refuse to comply.

Major national retail chains had varying responses to the new policies. Walmart announced Friday that it would not require fully vaccinated workers and customers to wear masks. Other retailers, such as Target and Walgreens, were still requiring masks inside their stores but were reviewing their policies in light of the U.S. CDC’s surprise announcement Thursday, according to news reports. Lambrew said that was part of the reason why the Mills administration delayed implementation of the new mask policy until May 24.

“We wanted to give our different sectors that are going to be adapting to this new policy a little more time … to figure out do they want to have a policy of their own, do they want to change the way that they do business?” Lambrew said.

What about children under 12 who are not eligible for vaccination? Should they still wear masks?

Yes, the U.S. CDC and Maine CDC both recommend that unvaccinated children continue to wear masks while in indoor public spaces. As a way to reduce any awkwardness or stigmatization experienced by children, public health officials have said that even fully vaccinated adults could consider donning a mask when out and about with their kids.

Do the new rules apply in schools to students or teachers who are fully vaccinated?

No, they do not.

As of Friday, the Maine Department of Education was sticking to its policy that all staff, students and visitors must wear masks inside schools unless they are eating, drinking or engaged in other activities that preclude wearing one. The Mills administration said new guidance will be coming “soon” but officials also suggested Friday that they are awaiting updated recommendations from the U.S. CDC.

What other changes are coming to Maine’s COVID-19 restrictions?

Effective May 24, the Mills administration will remove all capacity restrictions, gathering size limits and physical distancing requirements at outdoor venues and public indoor settings. What this means is that retail shops, grocery stores, churches, fitness clubs and other businesses will no longer have to limit the number of people (if they even still were). It also means the Sea Dogs can fill every seat at Hadlock Field, bands can once again play to sell-out crowds on the Portland and Bangor waterfronts, and restaurants can return to full capacity, both inside and outside.

Until Friday afternoon, bars, restaurants and other eating/drinking establishments were still expecting to have to maintain a 6-foot buffer between patrons seated indoors even after May 24. But Mills removed those indoor physical distancing requirements for all settings – including restaurants, bars, tasting rooms, cafeterias, camp dining halls and workplace break rooms – as part of the revisions made in response to the new U.S. CDC guidance.

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