AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine state employees will still be required to wear masks in shared indoor work spaces until at least July 7, the state budget commissioner said in a Friday memo.
The mandate will extend past Gov. Janet Mills’ removal of the indoor mask requirements for fully vaccinated Mainers, a move that is effective on Monday. The state will lift the mandate for state workers on July 7 if a survey confirms that 50 percent of employees are vaccinated and is planning a dedicated clinic on Monday and Wednesday for workers, plus friends and family.
Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa cited concerns about employee health in the Friday email to employees, saying the state does not know if there are vaccination disparities between departments.
The state focused on delivering shots to certain workers, including those in public health, corrections and emergency response early in the vaccination effort as part of their Phase 1 plan, but it is not clear if it has dedicated resources to getting the rest of the workforce vaccinated.
The policy is the second example of state entities being more cautious than Mills’ rules for the rest of the state. Democratic leaders in the Maine Legislature voted Thursday to allow the public to come into the State House starting next week, but require masks in shared spaces. It shows a reticence to completely relax guidelines as the vaccination effort slows.
Figueroa spokesperson Kelsey Goldsmith said the policy was developed with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in mind. That agency recommends those who are not fully vaccinated continue to wear a mask indoors. She said the state is an employer and like other businesses across Maine, “may require its employees to wear face coverings.”
Employees are offered paid leave if their vaccinations fall within normal work hours, Goldsmith said.
The state will phase more employees back into offices from July 7 through Labor Day. The state employee union has clashed with the administration about its approach to in-person work during the pandemic. It brought a complaint to the state’s labor board late last year alleging that the Mills administration was not being transparent about how many employees were working remotely and getting sick while on the job.
Figueroa’s email hinted at no tension and thanked employees for continuing their work during the pandemic.
“State employees have adapted to new ways of working and have overcome personal adversity all while maintaining the programs and services so crucial to Maine families,” she wrote.