Starting Friday, everyone in Maine who enters a public place where physical distancing is difficult to maintain will be required to wear a cloth face mask or covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The new normal for going out into public is a key piece of Gov. Janet Mills’ extended stay-at-home order, which will remain in effect until May 31. Her plan will allow the state’s economy to open in phases, with the first phase set to start Friday.

Mills’ executive order, which was published Wednesday, identifies public places or settings as indoor spaces that are accessible to the public and outdoor spaces as places where large crowds of people tend to gather. The order also strongly urges people to maintain social distancing of 6 feet in addition to wearing face coverings.

Mainers will have to wear face coverings in places such as grocery stores, retail stores, pharmacies and health care facilities. Under the order, the new rule also will apply to outdoor spaces such as playgrounds, congested parking lots, lines for take-out service, bus stops and waiting areas, as well as during transportation by taxis, Uber, Lyft, ride-sharing, ferries, buses and trains.

Mills has included exclusions to the rule that exempt children under the age of 2, a child in a child care setting, people that have trouble breathing, or someone who would otherwise be unable to remove a mask on their own.

The executive order does not say how the face-covering requirement will be enforced or whether there will be penalties for infractions. In an emailed response to questions about the face mask requirement, Lindsey Crete, Mills’ press secretary, said: “We are pleased with the compliance of the previous orders, which has helped us flatten the curve on this virus, and we assume we will see the same degree of compliance with this order, given its public health purposes.”

The Mills administration hasn’t revealed the specific data it is using to determine that Maine has flattened the curve of the virus’s progression.

The governor is encouraging Mainers to make their own cloth face coverings from common materials or to purchase them from a Maine-based company. The Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership has compiled a list of Maine companies that are producing face coverings. Mills’ administration is sharing the list as a resource for residents.

“As our state begins to ease some restrictions as part of the plan to gradually and safely restart the economy, it is important for Maine people to also take individual precautions to prevent the spread of the virus,” Mills said in a statement attached to her executive order. “Ultimately, this is about protecting our communities. By wearing a cloth face covering, you are taking an important step protecting others, and when others wear them, they are taking an important step in protecting you.”

The Mills administration also announced Wednesday that it has entered into a partnership with a Westbrook-based company, American Roots, to purchase and provide two cloth face coverings for every state employee. The state will purchase 27,500 cloth face coverings. American Roots will begin producing 4,000 coverings per week effective May 14.

A significant portion of individuals with COVID-19 are considered asymptomatic, which means they have the disease, but are not exhibiting symptoms. That segment of the population can still transmit the virus to others before becoming sick. A face mask can prevent the spread of the virus from the mask wearer to others.

“Face coverings can help keep people with COVID-19 from spreading it to others,” Dr. Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement. “Wearing a face covering when out in public can complement physical distancing as part of a strategy to limit the risk of exposure during a gradual reopening.”

Portland and Brunswick in recent weeks have each adopted measures that require employees of grocery stores, banks, convenience stores and indoor, public-serving locations to wear masks. Those municipalities did not extend their orders to the public.

In her order, Mills states that cloth face coverings are distinctly different from surgical or N-95 masks, which should be reserved for health care workers and first responders.

Ideally, a cloth face mask covers the nose and mouth and fits snugly but comfortably against the side of the face, according to U.S. CDC guidelines. It can be secured with ties or ear loops and may include multiple layers of fabric that allow a person to breathe without restrictions. The mask can be laundered and machine dried without damaging its shape.

When removing a cloth face covering, people, should avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth before immediately washing their hands.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams described in a recent video how to fashion and wear a simple cloth face covering.

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