News that Maine is no longer subject to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indoor masking advisory appeared to have little immediate impact on public-facing businesses Friday.

Still, state retail industry leaders expect that most stores soon will drop all masking mandates.

Most Maine retailers and other public-facing businesses already had stopped requiring customers to wear masks indoors even before updated data from the U.S. CDC on Thursday showed that all of the state’s 16 counties were in the medium-risk level, meaning the agency no longer recommends masking indoors.

Some – but not all – Maine businesses dropped their mask requirements around the same time they did so for customers in recent weeks. Some that still require masks for employees said the CDC’s updated guidance won’t likely make them change their policies.

Still, Retail Association of Maine President and CEO Curtis Picard said the new guidance is a step in the right direction for businesses.

“A lot more retailers will be forgoing masks, and people can wear them if they choose to,” Picard said.


During the COVID-19 omicron variant’s surge this winter, many businesses that had dropped their mask requirements reinstated them, and some communities even adopted their own mask mandates. Now, case numbers have been going down, the weather is slowly warming up, and soon more people will be spending time outside.

“Now that we’re all on a better track, we will see a lot of employers relax any internal requirements,” Picard said.

Leslie Smith, director of operations for Suger, talks with Amy Wanamaker of Boston as she checks out at the cash register Friday. Mask-wearing has gone from a requirement to a personal choice within the past few days, and so far, most employees have elected to keep them on, Suger said. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

In many cases, that has already been happening over the past few weeks, he said.

“I think it reflects the current situation,” Picard said about the updated recommendation. “I’m excited for people to get back to normal, get back to shopping, get back to eating out.”


Even though the masking recommendation has been lifted for all of Maine now that it is considered medium risk for COVID-19, the CDC still advises people who are immunocompromised or at high risk of severe illness to wear a tight face covering indoors.


The change in designation to medium risk for all of Maine that was announced Thursday represents a dramatic shift from last Friday when the federal agency placed 13 out of 16 counties in the high-risk category.

The change in federal guidelines came one day after Gov. Janet Mills’ administration stopped recommending that masks be worn inside schools and child care centers. Maine’s official recommendation is that mask-wearing should become optional starting Wednesday.

Masks are still recommended in health care facilities, according to the state.

Employees at Suger, a clothing store with locations in Portland and Biddeford, only have to wear masks if they choose to, owner Roxi Suger said.

Mask-wearing has only gone from a requirement to a personal choice within the past few days as recommendations and requirements have relaxed. But so far, most employees have elected to keep them on, Suger said.

Workers at the store’s manufacturing site inside Biddeford’s Pepperell Mill have been extended the same freedom, she said.


At Saco Sport and Fitness, masks haven’t been required for vaccinated gym-goers for some time. Unvaccinated guests are asked to wear masks, but it’s an honor system.

Operations manager Gabriel Perez said mask-wearing has been more of a personal decision for staff members, with some trainers and class instructors choosing to wear them.

At the business desk, where staff interact with many customers, they are masked “more often than not,” Perez said. They also mask up when the gym is especially busy.


Toy store owner Candace Gooch has been basing her policies more on what area schools are recommending than on federal guidance.

Her toy store, At Once All Agog in Cornish, is regularly visited by kids, and Gooch said it made more sense to be in line with what’s happening at the local level.


The store has required customers to wear masks up until now, but it plans to drop the requirement on Wednesday.

Gooch said she’s looking forward to not having to buy hundreds of masks to keep in the store in case a customer forgets one, but she and her one employee will likely continue to mask up, she said.

“As a small business with a small group of people that are running the business, we can’t afford for anybody to get sick,” Gooch said.

At Elements: Books Coffee Beer, owner Katie Pinard has been taking things slowly.

The Biddeford bookstore, bar and coffee shop combo only reopened for indoor seating this week, and masks are still required for customers when entering, browsing or ordering.

Pinard said she might relax the customer requirement in a few weeks or months if COVID-19 cases remain stable, but masking for the roughly 15 staff members will stay mandatory “for the foreseeable future.”


“Masking doesn’t hurt and it can only help,” she said. “Just give us a little more time to make sure things remain stable. We remember what happened last year in July (when) we had our first taste of freedom and then (the delta variant) happened.”

Local metrics are more persuasive than new CDC guidance, Pinard said, and she’ll be keeping an eye on the numbers. But she’s not ready to change anything just yet.

“We want so badly for this to be behind us, and that’s such a human feeling to have to want it to be over, and it’s just not,” she said. “Exercising a little caution is not a bad thing.”

Amy Teh, owner of Pinecone+Chickadee in Portland, is of a similar mind.

“Since we still have one of the highest transmission rates in the country, we’re going to continue (requiring customers and staff to wear masks) in our stores,” she said. “It’s just, I feel, the right thing to do. It was nice when we had the mandate, but without it we’re still going to continue to mask.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story