It was back to normal on Monday for businesses across Maine as the state abandoned yearlong regulations intended to limit the spread of COVID-19.
At Dock Fore, a pub on Fore Street in Portland, the staff was taking bar stools out of storage and putting tables back to where they were before the coronavirus pandemic began.
The bar has followed all rules and regulations to the letter since it reopened last summer, and its patrons and staff worked together to keep everyone safe, owner Shaun McCarthy said.
“Our customers have been great,” he said. “We opened back up in August and made it all this way with no problems here, no outbreaks. We never had to close down like a lot of places that were unlucky.”
To celebrate that success, and the end of the state’s indoor mask mandate, Dock Fore held a mask-burning party Monday evening. The idea for the party sprang from a running joke in the bar, that patrons and staff sick of wearing face coverings would hold “burning mask” a pun on the Burning Man music and art festival in the Nevada desert.
“I’m just glad our customers and employees had each other’s backs,” McCarthy said. “I think it will be a fun night, people are looking forward to getting back to the way things used to be.”
Maine’s indoor mask mandate and other pandemic restrictions expired Monday, as the state aligned with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Under new state guidance, fully vaccinated people – those who are two weeks beyond their final dose – no longer need to wear a mask or socially distance indoors. Wearing a face covering is now recommended for unvaccinated people but not required, and private establishments do not need to enforce masking or ask for proof of inoculation, although they may do so if they wish.
Masks and other restrictions are still required inside schools and child care centers under state rules. Federal rules mandate masks to be worn on all public transportation, including in airports and on airplanes.
Maine businesses adjusted to the change in various ways. Some intended to return to prepandemic norms right away, while others said they would continue to abide by pandemic restrictions, including masking, after the state rules were loosened.
Maine’s state government also updated its protocols for members of the public Monday, saying they no longer are required to wear masks outdoors while on state property or conducting state business. However, state employees and members of the public are still required to wear masks inside state buildings and vehicles.
Two of Maine’s largest supermarket chains adjusted their coronavirus prevention measures to bring them in line with state guidelines. Hannaford Supermarkets, which has 63 locations in Maine, said it will no longer require masks for vaccinated shoppers and employees, but still recommends them for those who are not fully vaccinated.
Like other businesses, Hannaford will not attempt to verify the vaccination status of customers or staff.
“Mask wearing by unvaccinated associates is a safety protocol that associates are expected to follow,” company spokesman Eric Blom said. “We do not ask for verification, but it is an expectation of them.”
Shaw’s also dropped its masking requirement for customers and vaccinated employees.
“The health and safety of our team and our customers is our highest priority, so masks or face coverings will be required for associates and strongly encouraged for customers who are not vaccinated while in our stores,” company spokeswoman Teresa Edington said.
Grocery shoppers interviewed Monday said they were aware that masks are no longer required in stores, but appeared about evenly split on whether they would continue to cover their faces while inside.
Kevin Hoefle, who recently moved to Lisbon Falls from Portland, chose not to wear a mask but admitted it might take him some time to adjust to what he called “the new new.”
Hoefle said he’s fully vaccinated and had used a pickup shopping service during much of the pandemic, but he went maskless at the Back Cove Hannaford in Portland on Monday. He said it was his first time shopping without a mask on in more than a year.
“So far, so good,” he said as he headed to his car with a bag of groceries.
But Sue Clifford of Portland said she decided to stick with her mask for her shopping trip Monday.
“I’m still not that confident without it,” said Clifford, a nurse also who has been vaccinated.
Another shopper, Mark Sidney of Portland, said he decided to leave the mask in the car when he went shopping.
Sidney said he thought about wearing it but then told himself, “If you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t need it.”
Sarah Cailler, also of Portland, said she’s fully vaccinated, too, but thinks other shoppers would feel more comfortable around people with masks on, at least in the short term.
“I just feel like it makes everyone feel better,” Cailler said.
One shopper at a Shaw’s store in South Portland first donned, then doffed her mask Monday.
Paula Loring said she knew that she wasn’t required to wear a mask, but that peer pressure led her to don the mask as she got out of her car and walked to the store.
“I don’t dare not to wear this,” Loring said initially, but then she changed her mind, pulling her mask down off her face to head into the store.
Some businesses that shifted to following the latest public health guidance reported excited customers and a lighthearted atmosphere Monday.
“Just everyone is so happy, even people wearing a mask,” said Mike Foley, owner of Foley’s Fitness in Scarborough. “It’s a much better energy in the gym.”
Clients’ strong dislike of wearing masks while they worked out made the new requirements a huge relief for Foley. People who signed up for gym memberships on Monday said they were just waiting for the mask mandate to expire, he added.
“Really, the last couple months as more and more people have been vaccinated, it gets harder and harder to police it because people really hate working out in a mask,” he said.
At Bow Street Market in Freeport, the honor system seemed to be working out on Monday. It was an even split between customers wearing masks and those who went without, store manager Ann Hart said.
“It feels great to be back to somewhat normal,” she said. Hart was apprehensive about conflict and confrontations over masks, reminded of some people’s behavior last year during lockdowns and tight restrictions. No tense situations transpired on Monday, to her relief.
“I was very happy that it went very well today,” Hart said. “We didn’t have a lot of complaints or anything like that – people were very respectful of each other.”