Maine’s seven-day average of daily new cases fell below 200 for the first time in nearly two months on Friday, a drop that comes three days before the state’s mask mandate is being repealed in most settings.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 170 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths on Friday. The seven-day average of daily new cases declined to 196.3, the lowest it has been since it was 194.4 on March 27. A week ago, the seven-day average was 269.3 and a month ago it was 421.9.

An executive order Gov. Janet Mills signed Wednesday rescinds the mask mandate on Monday. Last week she had said that the state would be aligning with new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear face coverings indoors.

Businesses can still require customers to wear masks, but starting Monday, masking is no longer mandated by the state for either vaccinated or unvaccinated people. The U.S. CDC says unvaccinated people should wear masks in public.

Last week, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, and Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s health and human services commissioner, acknowledged that it would be difficult for businesses to differentiate between customers who were fully vaccinated and those who were not, and said enforcement would likely be the purview of business owners.

So starting Monday, the mask mandate is repealed for everyone, except in schools and child care facilities. The U.S. CDC is still requiring people to wear masks when taking public transportation, such as airports, planes and buses.


“The executive order is consistent with our announcement last week and our discussions afterward,” said Jackie Farwell, a spokeswoman with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Among New England states, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire are repealing the mask mandate, while Rhode Island, Vermont and Connecticut are keeping an indoor mask mandate for unvaccinated people. All of the states maintain some exceptions, such as for schools and public transportation, and businesses are permitted to set their own mask requirements. In most health care settings masks will be required regardless of vaccination status.

“Already, we’ve had people arriving at our hospitals and clinics and asking why they must still wear a mask and maintain social distancing,” Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer with MaineHealth, said in a statement. “The answer is that the new guidelines from the U.S. CDC specifically say health care settings must continue to require masks and practice social distancing.”

Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a pediatrician from South Portland and an infectious disease expert, said that as the pandemic starts to ease and the nation is no longer in crisis, public policies start to change. Policies have to adapt to human behavior, and masks are not the only tool to reduce risk of transmission during a pandemic, she said.

“I think there could be pros and cons either way,” Blaisdell said, referring to the decision on whether states should keep a mask mandate indoors for the unvaccinated. She said one potential positive for repealing the mask mandate is that when unvaccinated people see others unmasked in indoor public places, they might feel more at risk and it could spur them to put on a mask or get vaccinated.

Blaisdell, however, worries about children too young to be immunized, even though children in general do not get as sick from COVID-19 as adults. Those 12 and older have vaccines approved for use by the federal government, but younger children don’t have an approved vaccine yet. Research is ongoing, but health experts predict a vaccine for children 11 and younger likely won’t be available until fall at the earliest.


Blaisdell recommends that unvaccinated adults and children who aren’t yet eligible for vaccines wear masks in indoor public places.

“As long as there are people who can’t get vaccinated, we should be protecting those who can’t protect themselves in public places,” Blaisdell said.

Since the pandemic began, 66,704 people in Maine have tested positive for COVID-19, with 818 deaths. As of Friday, 106 people were in Maine hospitals with the disease, including 38 in critical care beds.

Vaccinations continue to climb, albeit slowly, with 692,796 people, or 51.54 percent of Maine’s 1.3 million residents, receiving at least the first dose. Also, 661,896 people, or 49.24 percent, have received their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

As demand for the vaccines weaken, the state is shifting its inoculation strategy away from mass vaccination sites, to smaller operations like at schools, doctor’s offices, pharmacies and workplaces.

The Scarborough Downs location, operated by MaineHealth, closed on Thursday. The Portland Expo site will close on June 18, and the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor will close on Thursday. The Expo and Cross sites are both run by Northern Light Health.

“We are closing because we did our job,” Ellie Foster, a pod team leader at Scarborough Downs, said on Thursday, the clinic’s final day. “This is more sweet than bitter. We put ourselves out of business.”

Also on Friday, the Maine Department of Education listed all counties in the “green” category, including Androscoggin County, which had been in “yellow.” A green designation means that schools have a relatively lower risk of COVID-19 and can do in-person instruction. Androscoggin County’s case rate has fallen by more than 25 percent during the past two weeks, which is one reason why the county was returned to green status.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: