Attorney General and Maine DHHS issue face covering guidance and enforcement

Posted November 24, 2020

Maine Attorney General Aaron M. Frey is urging Mainers and all individuals present in the state to follow the law and wear face coverings when in public, as mandated by the Governor's executive orders, in order to help curb the spread of COVID-19. With cases rising in Maine and across the country, widespread use of face coverings is a proven method for reducing the risk of infections and to enable businesses to remain open, according to public health experts.

Most Maine people and businesses have complied with the face covering requirement. Voluntary compliance, supported by education, is always the goal. In instances of repeated and purposeful noncompliance that poses a threat to public health, the State has various tools to pursue enforcement.

On November 23, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued guidance to businesses and other organizations which interact with the public detailing these enforcement options. The guidance clearly states that the Governors Executive Orders have the force of law and spells out face covering requirements for individuals and establishments, including which establishments must enforce wearing of face coverings, and the potential consequences for noncompliance.

"With Thanksgiving and Black Friday approaching, it is critical that Mainers take necessary steps to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their communities," said Frey. Wearing a face covering is a simple step you can take to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In a public setting, wearing a face covering not only makes good sense, but is required and enforceable through licensing actions, by law enforcement, and by the Attorney General.

The joint OAG-DHHS guidance explains the Executive Order on face coverings and the requirements and expectations it places on individuals and establishments. These include:

  • The definition of public settings as places like stores, restaurants, and government buildings
  • Clarification that all businesses may, and some businesses must enforce face covering usage, and further clarification on which businesses are legally required to do so
  • Recommendations for businesses and other establishments to work with law enforcement in order to protect frontline workers who encounter individuals refusing to comply
  • A reminder that individuals can be charged criminally for not wearing a face covering in a public setting after being warned by a law enforcement officer to do so

The full guidance also includes information on reasonable accommodations which can be made for people with disabilities, and notes that beyond these accommodations, during a public health emergency disability laws do not require a business to admit a customer not wearing a face covering.

I urge everyone to use common sense and common courtesy, continued Frey. The objective is to prevent the spread of COVID-19, not to take action against individuals for honest mistakes or minor violations. Citizens are asked to comply with the face covering requirement as part of the shared goals of controlling the virus and protecting ourselves and others.