In this Dec. 3, 2020, file photo, a sign outside a Portland restaurant lays down the pandemic rules. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Businesses that fail to enforce the governor’s mask mandate could find themselves charged with crime and faced with a stiff fine, according to the Maine attorney general’s office.

Last Friday, Gov. Janet Mills ordered businesses with indoor public places to not allow anyone who refuses to wear a face covering to come into or stay in their venue.

Thursday’s guidance from Attorney General Aaron Frey and Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew elaborates on Mills’ executive order, stating that business owners, restaurant and hotel managers or anyone else in charge of a public indoor setting does not enforce mask use can be charged with a class E crime, punishable by a fine of up to $10,000.

Public indoor settings include retail stores of all sizes, including big box stores; restaurants and coffee shops; bars and tasting rooms; social clubs, hotels and inns; and government buildings.

Last week’s order closed a loophole that had allowed those claiming a medical exemption to not wear a face covering. People whose disabilities prohibit them from wearing masks can ask for special accommodations, which business owners can respond to by offering a face shield, allowing takeout or curbside service, or making the services of a personal shopper available, Frey and Lambrew said in the guidance.

But there is no possibility under the new order that any patron can come into or remain in the indoor public setting without a face covering.

An executive order in early November already required everyone to be masked in all public places, even outdoors. While that executive order didn’t make it clear what punishment people would face for refusing to wear a mask even when explicitly asked to, Frey and Lambrew’s guidance said that business owners can call the police on such people.

Although it has not yet happened in Maine, people can be charged with a criminal offense for not wearing a face covering in a public setting after being warned by a law enforcement officer.