PORTLAND, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills voiced support on Tuesday for Portland’s new mask mandate while repeating that she is not looking at a return to similar state measures.
Councilors in Maine’s largest city voted to require masks in businesses except for those that require proof of vaccination on Monday. It kicks in on Wednesday. Portland was Maine’s first city to reinstate its own COVID-19 restrictions since Mills lifted a state emergency in the summer.
Mills, a Democrat facing reelection this fall, has consistently dismissed reviving state-enforced restrictions as cases of the virus have surged. She told The Washington Post last month that talk of such efforts would distract more rural and conservative from getting vaccinated.
But the governor’s backing of local measures could provide some level of support for communities that are considering their own actions. At a Tuesday ceremony celebrating the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s purchase of a Portland wharf, she said she backed the council vote while “not looking at a statewide mandate at this time.”
Mills said she would like to see more school districts “step up to the plate a little more strongly” in ensuring faculty, staff and students are vaccinated to keep kids in school.
“Encouraging education surrounding vaccines is truly lifesaving,” she said.
Mills’ last major pandemic-related action was to mandate in August that all health care workers in nursing homes, hospitals and other medical institutions get vaccinated as a requirement for employment to maintain the workforce. A surge in cases has continued since, with hospitals particularly stressed as largely unvaccinated people put pressure on space and staffing.
She is facing reelection in 2022. Former Gov. Paul LePage, her Republican predecessor, has promised to revoke Mills’ vaccine mandate if elected and argued recently that allowing fewer vulnerable children getting the virus would eventually stem the spread of COVID-19.