A group of masked riders get off the Peaks Island ferry in Portland on Jan. 28, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday relaxed its guidance on mask wearing for individuals who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The CDC now advises that vaccinated Americans won’t need to wear a mask in most indoor settings beginning on May 24. The new guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like planes, hospitals, prisons, homeless shelters and public transit.

Gov. Janet Mills announced Friday that the state would follow this guidance. The governor had previously eased outdoor mask requirements and announced plans earlier this week to lift indoor gathering limits on May 24.

Many business owners are wondering how they would determine who was vaccinated and who was not, and thus should still wear a mask indoors. The governor’s office noted that businesses and other organizations can adopt policies for their employees or clients that either require vaccination or require proof of vaccination in order to avoid wearing a mask. Parents of young children wonder how the changed guidance would impact them and their children.

We understand their concern and agree that the changed guidance causes some confusion. But, the most important message is that getting vaccinated is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to allow businesses, schools and other entities to operate more normally, which will further spur economic recovery.

“We welcome this new guidance and we agree — being vaccinated is the best way to protect you and your loved ones from COVID-19,” Mills said in a statement on Friday. “After a review of the new guidance, we are adopting the U.S. CDC’s recommendations, and we continue to strongly urge all Maine people to get their shots. There are appointments available across the state right now. As we get back to normal, rolling up your sleeve is going to ensure that you stay healthy and alive. Please don’t wait. Get your shot now.”

As of Thursday, 58 percent of American adults have received at least one vaccine dose. Last week, President Joe Biden set a goal of having 70 percent of Americans at least partially vaccinated by July 4.

In Maine, 47 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, the highest rate in the country, and 58 percent have received at least one dose, according to CDC and Census Bureau data compiled by the New York Times. Two vaccines, one made by Pfizer and the other by Moderna, require two shots. A vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson is delivered in a single dose.

Despite Maine’s relatively high vaccination rate, hospitalizations for COVID remain stubbornly high in some parts of the state. Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston cared for 24 infected patients last Friday and Saturday, the most at any one time since the pandemic began, the Lewiston Sun Journal reported.

Over the past week, three quarters of COVID-19 patients there have required intensive care, the newspaper reported. Three coronavirus deaths happened at the hospital in the past week.

These worrisome numbers show the need for continued caution.

At the same time, a shift in thinking about who is at most risk for contracting COVID is needed.

Mainers who are already fully vaccinated likely remain among those who are the most cautious about the risks of spreading the virus. But it is those who are not vaccinated who are the most vulnerable to a COVID infection. That’s why federal guidance continues to advise that they should wear masks in many situations, especially indoors, but also in some outdoor settings.

Given the rising vaccination rates, if unvaccinated people don’t wear masks, they are now mostly endangering their own health and that of other unvaccinated people (some of whom cannot get vaccinated because of their health and/or age). Rather than focusing on who wears a mask, encouraging as many people as possible to get vaccinated will have the most impact on the spread of the coronavirus.

That’s why states like Maine, which is offering Sea Dogs tickets, L.L. Bean gift certificates and other items, are now giving incentives for vaccinations. Ohio really upped the ante with weekly drawings for a $1 million prize for residents who get COVID vaccines and five full-ride scholarships to Ohio schools for teens who get vaccinated.

“Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19,” Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said in the press release.

Simply put, if you want to ditch the mask and help protect others, get your shot.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...