AUGUSTA — The Maine CDC has provided the Maine Department of Education with a breakdown of community health risk levels per county through a color-coded list to inform education officials on whether students can potentially return to campus.
The DOE and CDC is providing school superintendents and school boards with public health guidance in the form of a three-tiered health advisory system to assist them in making decisions about whether and how to bring students back to the classroom.
This new tiered system will take into account public health metrics on a county by county basis and translate them into three, regularly updated color-based categorizations.
The color-coded list of counties is generated by Maine CDC’s team of medical/health officials, epidemiologists, and researchers and is based on several data points using a rolling two-week average, and the county risk levels will be updated every two weeks.
“We all must emphasize that the purpose of this tool is to inform the difficult decisions you’ll be making in terms of offering in-person, hybrid, or remote instruction models, and that the risk designation is only one piece of information to be considered,” Maine DOE Commissioner Pender Makin said.
Despite some counties being in the green level, thus paving the way for students to potentially return to campus, activity on campus will not business as usual, per the DOE, as Maine CDC requirements for safely providing in-person instruction must be followed.
Furthermore, the DOE says physical distancing of three to six feet for students and six feet for adults must be enforced. If those distances exceed the capacity of schools, a hybrid model will need to be implemented, the DOE says, to reduce the amount of students attending on-campus classes at the same time, even in a green level county.
This new tiered system, which will be based on a holistic assessment of quantitative and qualitative information that includes but is not limited to recent data on case rates, positivity rates, and syndromic data, will break down into three-color based categorizations by county: red, yellow, and green.
Categorization as red suggests the county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that in-person instruction should not be conducted.
Categorization as yellow suggests the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that hybrid instruction models should be adopted.
Categorization as green suggests the county has a relatively low COVID-19 risk and that in-person instruction can be adopted, although an SAU may opt for hybrid instruction if its buildings or readiness make adhering to baseline requirements a challenge.
These recommendations are intended to be advisory in nature and pertain only to the unique circumstances of schools. Given the large and varied nature of counties in Maine, SAUs within a county or spread across multiple counties may adopt a reopening policy that differs from this county-based categorization of COVID-19 risk. Maine DHHS and Maine CDC will not review SAU-specific plans.
Local Color Levels (as of July 31)
Knox County: GREEN
Lincoln County: GREEN
Waldo County: GREEN
Six requirements for schools to safely reopen in the fall:
Symptom Screening at Home Before Coming to School: Students (parents/caregivers) and staff members must conduct self-checks for symptoms prior to boarding buses or entering school buildings each day. Schools should provide information to families in their primary language to support them in conducting this check. Any person showing symptoms must report their symptoms and not be present at school. Schools must provide clear and accessible directions to parents/caregivers and students for reporting symptoms and absences.
Physical Distancing and Facilities: Adults must maintain 6 feet of distance from others to the extent possible. Maintaining 3 feet of distance is acceptable between and among students when combined with the other measures outlined in this list of safety requirements. 6 feet of physical distancing is required for students while eating breakfast and lunch, as students will be unable to wear masks at that time. A “medical isolation room” (separate from the nurse’s office) must be designated for students/staff who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms during the school day. Adequate ventilation is required for classrooms, with schools having flexibility in implementation such as using properly working ventilation systems or outdoor air exchange using fans in open windows or doors.Groups in any one area, room, or classroom must not exceed the Governor’s gathering size limits.
Masks/Face Coverings: Adults, including educators and staff, are required to wear a mask/face covering. Students age two and above are required to wear a mask/face covering that covers their nose and mouth. Masks/face coverings must be worn by all students on the bus. Face shields may be an alternative for those students with medical, behavioral, or other challenges who are unable to wear masks/face coverings. The same applies to staff with medical or other health reasons for being unable to wear face coverings. Face shields worn in place of a face covering must extend below the chin and back to the ears.
Hand Hygiene: All students and staff in a school must receive training in proper hand hygiene. All students and staff must wash hands or use sanitizing gel upon entering the school, before and after eating, before and after donning or removing a face mask, after using the restroom, before and after use of playgrounds and shared equipment, and upon entering and exiting a school bus.
Personal Protective Equipment: Additional safety precautions are required for school nurses and/or any staff supporting students in close proximity, when distance is not possible, or when student require physical assistance. These precautions must at a minimum include eye protection (e.g., face shield or goggles) and a mask/face covering. Classrooms and/or areas that have been used by an individual diagnosed with COVID-19 must be closed off until thorough cleaning and sanitization takes place.
Return to School after Illness: Sick staff members and students must use home isolation until they meet criteria for returning to school.