- get vaccinated;
- wear a mask in public indoor settings;
- practice social distancing;
- wash their hands well and regularly; and
- think twice about attending large indoor gatherings – especially if they know others in attendance will be unmasked or unvaccinated.
- Mask mandates related to COVID-19 should be left to the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine CDC. With their abundant resources and robust data collection, they are in the best position to determine when and if mask mandates are necessary and if they would be helpful in stemming the flow of transmission. At this time, they have not found that to be the case.
In response to reporters’ questions about the possibility of enacting a mask mandate, the state replied that while mask mandates were a good early strategy, Maine’s DHHS and CDC were now focusing on trying to get more people fully vaccinated.
This doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be masking when indoors, or that masking indoors isn’t helpful. Indeed, the State and Federal CDC recommend that “all people, regardless of vaccination status, wear face coverings in indoor, public settings in areas with “substantial” or “high” levels of community transmission” (source).
What this does mean is that the state does not believe a mask mandate would move the needle on COVID-19 transmission rates and it is therefore better to focus efforts elsewhere.
- For a mask mandate to be effective, it needs to cross town lines. If Portland were to enact a mask mandate on its own, without any collaboration with surrounding municipalities or others in the region, people averse to masking could simply choose to do their business in any of these surrounding municipalities. This would not stem the transmission of COVID-19. Instead, it would just place Portland’s local business community at a disadvantage, which could then imperil their economic viability and their ability to employ and pay their workers. Economic volatility and unemployment also have public health impacts, and those must be considered, particularly when the state and federal CDCs have not – at this point in time – found that instituting mask mandates would offer a net gain in the fight against COVID-19.
- The City of Portland has no capacity to enforce this mandate. It has been made quite clear that if the City of Portland were to put a mask mandate into place, we would have no capacity to enforce it. At our September 20, 2021 meeting, there was an order that would have made one of the City’s full time employees a constable if the mask mandate were passed. The goal would be to have this public health employee take responsibility for enforcing the mask mandate.
The employee in question already works full-time for the City each week in her capacity as a program coordinator in the Department of Health and Human Services. Therefore, it is difficult to understand how giving her the powers and responsibilities of a constable would free up sufficient time for her to enforce a citywide mask mandate while also fulfilling her regular responsibilities. The simple answer here is that it would not, and the City of Portland would still have no capacity to enforce a mandate.
- As originally written, the order proposed to measure progress in the City of Portland using metrics based on Cumberland County data. The mandate was to end in the City of Portland when all of Cumberland County had achieved a particular transmission rate. This meant that Portland, with its extremely high vaccination rates, could be enacting and maintaining a mask mandate based on the behavior and resulting consequences of people in Windham, Standish, New Gloucester, Raymond, or one of the other 19 municipalities in Cumberland County.
The order was subsequently amended so as not to rely on this metric, but we were still left with no ability to measure progress or assess the effectiveness of a mask mandate in the City of Portland. It is hard to back such a significant measure with no data to support its implementation or to indicate, at any point of time, its effectiveness.
- A mask mandate is a one-size-fits-all solution for something that is not a one-size-fits-all problem. Does it make sense, for instance, to require people at an indoor tennis facility who are standing 80-feet apart in a space with high ceilings and excellent ventilation to wear masks while they play? Does it make sense for a single employee sitting alone in a business that is ultimately open to the public but that rarely has public inside to be required to wear a mask? Does it make sense to mandate mask wearing at facilities that have reconfigured their spaces to ensure social distancing and that are also requiring proof of vaccination for people to enter their premises? The answer to all of these - in my opinion - is no, but the mask mandate, as written, would require masking in all of these situations.
Ironically, the mask mandate was written with an exception for people who are actively eating or drinking, which seems to completely defeat the intended purpose of the whole initiative. It has been stated that one of the worst scenarios for transmission is in indoor spaces where people are actively eating and drinking. And yet, this mandate would allow people to remove their masks specifically for that purpose, regardless of social distancing or vaccination status.
I’m not saying I would support the mandate if this exemption were removed. I still wouldn’t due to all of the other reasons I've cited. I only point this out to highlight the inconsistency here and suggest that this mask mandate, while it might feel good or right to some, is not a measure that would move the needle in terms of decreasing the transmission of COVID-19.