Gov. Janet Mills speaks at the unveiling of a Nautilus Data Technologies data center at the site of the former Great Northern Maine Paper Company mill on Saturday. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills announced Friday that Maine’s COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency will end on June 30, making the state the latest to wind down the status as vaccination rates rise here and across the country.

Maine’s state of emergency began in mid-March of 2020, three days after the state discovered its first case. It has been the vehicle for the Democratic governor’s executive orders, including those that implemented economic restrictions and face-covering requirements, then later eased them.

All governors used those restrictions to varying degrees across the country, Mills’ orders caused political controversy in Maine, particularly last spring and summer. A church and businesses filed unsuccessful lawsuits against the state. Minority Republicans in the Maine Legislature failed in bids to both rein in restrictions and cull the governor’s emergency powers.

The current state of emergency, which must be renewed every 30 days, was set to expire Monday, but Mills said in a news release she would extend it two more weeks to ensure a smooth transition. The move from Mills will end the face-covering requirement in Maine schools, while the state is still recommending people who are not vaccinated wear a mask. Some policies, such as flexibility for child care providers, may continue after an administrative review.

The Maine governor had not teased any threshold before ending the emergency on Friday, but in a statement, she cited the state’s progress in vaccinations and lower transmission of the virus. The state is second in the U.S. behind Vermont in the share of fully vaccinated residents, according to a Bloomberg News tracker. Cases have fallen sharply in recent weeks and hospitalizations last week reached their lowest level since fall.

“I congratulate and thank Maine people for all they have done to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their fellow citizens,” Mills said in a statement.

Only eight states have ended their state of emergency so far, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. But Maine is joining many other states in winding them down. It was the fourth state in New England to announce its plans to do so. New Hampshire’s will end Friday at midnight, Massachusetts’ will end on Tuesday and Vermont is closing in on a vaccination goal that Gov. Phil Scott tied to the end of his emergency.

Restrictions have mostly lifted steadily since June 2020, when Mills allowed restaurants across the state to reopen to in-person dining with restrictions. She repealed an indoor mask mandate late last month after a federal policy change. The school mask requirement was the only high-profile restriction left as of Friday.

The subject of how long to continue the emergency status has been fiercely debated this legislative session, with multiple Republican attempts to end it or limit the governor’s powers during it being struck down by majority Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, declined comment through a spokesperson, but Matthew Gagnon, CEO of the conservative Maine Policy Institute and a Bangor Daily News columnist, said Mills used her authority under state law “in unprecedented ways.”

“Our organization will continue to advocate for reforms to emergency executive power until the rights of every Mainer are protected during states of emergency,” he said in a statement.

BDN writer Caitlin Andrews contributed to this report.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...