In what may seem like a flashback to 2020, businesses will become the main gatekeepers for Portland’s mask mandate ordinance that goes into effect Wednesday.
Portland city councilors voted unanimously to implement the mandate, which requires people age 2 and older to wear masks inside public places, although businesses that call for proof of vaccination of everyone on their premises do not need to have people wear masks.
Businesses in Maine’s largest city must post “masks required” signs by Jan. 10. But it is devoting few resources to enforcing the policy. It has appointed just one local health officer as a constable who is allowed to issue tickets up to $500 for each violation but whose primary task is education.
Other than that, businesses carry the sole burden of enforcement. That rankles David Turin, chef and owner of David’s Restaurant in Portland’s Monument Square, who spoke in support of the mandate at Monday’s meeting citing a need to have uniform requirements across the city.
“There just isn’t anything that is less in sync with the notion of hospitality than having to be the police,” Turin said.
Gov. Janet Mills said Tuesday that she supports Portland’s ordinance, but has no plans to reinstitute a statewide mandate. Enforcing that mandate proved difficult. In December 2020, she ordered all businesses to handle it, then lifted the indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people in May 2021.
The town of Brunswick rejected a mask mandate similar to Portland’s in October, but town councilors will hold a special meeting on Thursday to revisit a possible mask mandate.
The mandates reflect employees wanting a safe workplace, Matt Lewis, president and CEO of HospitalityMaine, said. The industry group representing restaurants and hotels is against mask mandates, preferring that individual businesses make their own safety decisions.
“What happened in Portland could be a domino effect for other parts of the state,” Lewis said.