Maine removing statewide mask recommendation for schools, leaves decision up to districts

Wed, 03/02/2022 - 1:30pm

    AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Department of Education advised Maine school units and child care providers on Wednesday that effective March 9 universal masking is no longer a statewide recommendation in these settings but is optional.

    Consistent with Maine’s tradition of local control, local school boards have the authority to determine requirements in their respective schools, a news release stated. 

    This change is dependent on continued stability in COVID-19 trends in Maine, including reduced hospitalizations, reduced virus levels in wastewater, and reduced school outbreaks and absenteeism, among other quantitative and qualitative factors, according to the release.

    “At this point in the pandemic, the focus of State government remains on maintaining the critical functions of everyday life for Maine people, including preserving hospital capacity, keeping schools open, supporting businesses, and providing Maine people with the tools to keep themselves healthy, like COVID-19 vaccines and tests,” said Governor Janet Mills. “We strongly urge parents to have their children vaccinated, if eligible, which is the best way to protect them and others. Maine people should make decisions about masks that they believe are in the best interest of their health while being considerate of those around them.”

    The change also comes as Maine and the rest of the nation enter a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, where vaccines, therapeutics, and other interventions highly effective at preventing serious illness and death are widely available. Maine is one of the most highly vaccinated states in the nation.

    “The pandemic has created extraordinary challenges for Maine schools, and they have met these challenges with courage, innovation, and forward thinking,” said Pender Makin, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education. “We are heartened by the recent data and this transition toward recovery and normalcy for our schools.”

    Maine has not had an indoor masking requirement for any setting, including schools or child care facilities, since June 2021 – instead recommending that these locations follow COVID-19 guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC). That guidance was updated February 25. Previously, the U.S. CDC recommended that all schools and child care facilities implement universal masking and required masking on school buses.

    “As the pandemic has evolved, so too has our approach, and that includes today’s actions. Some people, communities, schools, child care centers, and businesses may choose to continue to require masking because it’s best for their circumstances – and those decisions are understandable and should be respected,” said Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. “As the Governor said, we continue to urge all Maine people to get vaccinated and boosted as the best way to take care of yourself and others.”

    The Maine CDC has completed its assessment of the U.S. CDC’s revised guidance, as directed by Governor Mills. While it welcomes the simplified recommendations, which take into account important metrics such as hospitalizations, the Maine CDC encourages Maine people, municipalities, schools, businesses, and other entities to consider the new guidance as one piece of information in a holistic approach to deciding whether masking is appropriate for their setting or themselves based on their risk factors.

    “Maine people now have more tools to make decisions based on their own assessments of risk,” said Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine CDC. “Recent trends are encouraging, and for some individuals and communities, masking may be a smart way to limit the impact of COVID-19.”

    The Maine CDC continues to recommend universal masking in medical facilities, long-term care facilities, and other congregate living facilities as an added layer of protection for vulnerable populations in those settings. The Maine CDC also recommends that masks be worn by individuals completing their isolation and quarantine periods (e.g., days 6 to 10 if they are asymptomatic). If the Maine CDC detects a concerning increase in the virus that poses a risk to the state’s hospital capacity, or if a new variant poses a new and previously unforeseen risk to the health of Maine people, then it may decide to offer new recommendations.