AUGUSTA — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) and the Maine Department of Education announced Wednesday further revisions to the Maine CDC’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for responding to COVID-19 in schools.
Following discussions with school superintendents, the Maine CDC has revised the SOP to state that schools enforcing a universal masking policy may choose to suspend contract tracing in light of the transmissibility of the Omicron variant and its impact on the effectiveness of contact tracing.
The Maine CDC has determined that, because the Omicron variant is far more contagious than prior variants, has a shorter incubation period, and tends to spread in the early part of an infection, it is contributing to higher levels of community transmission, making community exposures more frequent and, consequently, reducing the effectiveness of contact tracing in schools.
While the goal of contact tracing is to provide a timely notification to all individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19, school superintendents have reported that conducting contact tracing in a timely and thorough manner is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for school personnel given the fast spread of the Omicron variant.
The revised SOP permits schools with universal masking policies to suspend contact tracing if they are not able to conduct it effectively, in order to rededicate limited and tired staff to focus on other COVID-19 mitigation strategies, like detecting and preventing infected people from being in schools via pooled testing, to help keep kids in the classroom. Schools that have the resources to contact trace effectively are encouraged to continue doing so.
The change is consistent with those adopted recently by other New England states and builds on other revisions from the Maine CDC that, among other updates, reflect recently updated guidance from the U.S. CDC on quarantine and isolation periods. All of these revisions are designed to support in-person learning, thereby promoting the health and well-being of school students, staff, and their communities.
The change is also specifically targeted to schools that have implemented a universal masking policy. U.S. and Maine CDCs recommend universal indoor masking by all students, faculty, staff, and visitors in K–12 schools, regardless of vaccination status, across all school-based and school-sponsored activities. Wearing a mask has been proven to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Local school boards are charged with the responsibility of implementing masking requirements for their school systems. Schools that do not have a universal masking policy should continue contact tracing.
According to Maine’s Vaccination Dashboard, as of January 12, 51.5 percent of children ages 5 to 19 were fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Data from the U.S. CDC show that Maine ranks fourth best in the nation in the percent of 5 to 17 year olds fully vaccinated. As of the end of October, 83 percent of school staff were fully vaccinated.