A pair of pedestrians wear masks in Portland on Friday while walking by a sign urging them to do so. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Maine now wants restaurants to require customers to wear masks even when seated except when eating or drinking, leading to outcry from an industry that finds the rule too onerous.

Gov. Janet Mills stepped up the face-covering requirements last week to essentially encompass every situation when a person is not alone in public. Restaurants have had to make sure customers wear masks when not seated and have contact tracing procedures set up since they were allowed to reopen to dine-in service in June during the coronavirus pandemic.

The new requirement came in a round of updates to economic reopening rules last week as the virus situation escalates across the country and state. Maine saw a total of 1,800 active cases as of Tuesday, more than at any time during the pandemic and double what it saw less than two weeks ago.

The state has increased enforcement of virus rules. Pat’s Pizza in Portland’s Old Port received an imminent health hazard citation from the state in October for customers not wearing masks when they were not seated. It shut down for at least a week in late October after a novel coronavirus outbreak. Several dozen other restaurants and inns have been cited for either employees or customers not wearing masks where required, according to state data.

Steve Hewins, CEO and president of industry group HospitalityMaine, said he is concerned about already stressed restaurant employees having to enforce the new mandate.

At Governor’s Restaurant & Bakery in Lewiston, workers ask customers to wear masks when they are walking around. It takes effort to add more to the protocol, said manager Carlene Barnies.

“People come in to have a nice dining experience, but we’re giving them more rules,” Barnies said.

Under the update, customers can remove their face coverings while eating, but they must wear the face covering with waitstaff at the table. Those using curbside or pick-up options need to wear face coverings when interacting with employees.