Multiple signs about masks greet customers at 2nd to None in downtown Ellsworth on March 3. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine will no longer require fully vaccinated people to wear face masks indoors effective May 24, Gov. Janet Mills announced Friday.

The Democratic governor’s announcement came one day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its recommendations to say fully vaccinated people did not need to wear masks in most settings. The agency still advises masking for unvaccinated people.

May 24 is also the day that Maine businesses can return to 100 percent capacity both indoors and outdoors. Mills said Friday that her administration would also be eliminating physical distancing requirements in indoor settings effective on that date, meaning bars and restaurants will no longer be required to position tables at least 6 feet apart.

Businesses will be allowed to require vaccination or proof of vaccination for customers and employees who do not wear a mask, the Mills administration said. The state will also begin to retire its COVID-19 prevention checklists for businesses, citing the increased role of the U.S. CDC in issuing guidance. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the state planned to begin reviewing checklists in the coming days to see what guidance might be rescinded.

After the announcement, Republicans including former Gov. Paul LePage, who may run against Mills in 2022, pushed the governor to loosen the rules immediately. House Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, said Mainers have “sacrificed a lot” and “have done what has been required of them” during the pandemic.

As of Friday, more than 621,000 Mainers had received their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while more than 687,000 have received at least one dose. Vaccination rates vary widely by age group, however, and children under the age of 12 are still not eligible for the vaccine. The change in masking policy only applies to Mainers who are fully vaccinated, meaning it has been at least 14 days since they received their final COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Despite the pending change, the state is still encouraging mask-wearing in indoor settings. Lambrew said fully vaccinated people should consider wearing one to set an example for children for whom the vaccine is not yet available.

“That is something that adults may want to do from now into the future, not necessarily because they need to do so to protect themselves if they’re fully vaccinated, but because it sends a message that we do care about our communities, we do care about our children, and we’re supporting them as they get to the point where they too can be fully vaccinated,” Lambrew said.