Search location by ZIP code Two years after closing doors due to the pandemic, Maine schools go mask-optional

With most Maine counties rated "low-risk" for coronavirus transmission, the number of COVID-19 patients in Maine hospitals sinking, and low case numbers in schools that did not spike after February break, Maine schools have shifted to mask-optional indoors, as recommended by public health officials and approved by local school boards.

At Yarmouth Elementary School, and elsewhere, first-graders and younger students are attending classes mask-free for the first time in their lives."We hear from so many staff and parents and students how important it has been for them to be able to see one another's faces and those smiles.," Yarmouth Public Schools Superintendent Andrew Dolloff said in an interview Monday.


Only two of Yarmouth's 104 pool tests last week were positive.

Two-thirds of Maine K-12 schools are participating in pool testing.

Statewide, only two of 710 schools are in outbreak status, having seen three of more cases over two weeks, according to the Maine Department of Education.

Dolloff estimated that 90% of his district’s 1,700 students are going mask-free.

"Numbers have stayed down, so we feel good about it, but there's always that concern that there's another variant out there," Dolloff said.

But many coronavirus protocols remain in place.

Search location by ZIP code Two years after closing doors due to the pandemic, Maine schools go mask-optional

“Students are still limited in terms of how many can sit at a table for lunch. We’re trying to encourage windows open when possible, going outside, when possible,” Dolloff said. “Isolations and quarantines for positive cases remain in place. Cleaning protocols remain in place. So, a lot of what we’ve been doing for two years we’ll continue to do.”

In Maine hospitals, there were only 116 COVID-19 patients admitted Monday, down 75% from the peak of 436 on Jan. 13.

On a visit to Maine Medical Center on Monday, Senator Angus King told reporters the federal budget passed by Congress last week stopped short of clawing back unused coronavirus relief funds, so millions of dollars in medical aid will flow to the state.

"Stockpiling, for example, PPEs, vaccines, testing material, so we're not caught with a long delay if there's a resurgence of this virus," King said.

MaineHealth was treating only 17 people for COVID-19 in its nine hospitals, including only five at MaineMed.

MaineHealth CEO Dr. Andrew Mueller said hospitals are in a better place than two months ago but still stressed.

Mueller said, "We still have a tired workforce, and we have lots of patients who've had deferred care over the last couple of years. So, while things may be settling down in terms of the number of COVID-19 patients we're treating, they're not slowing down at all."

Masks are still required in hospitals.

School sports teams are playing mask-free outdoors, while mask-optional becomes the norm indoors.

“It’s a relief for a lot of people, and it creates some anxiety for some other folks, Dolloff said. “I think everybody would be concerned some of these decisions have been made too soon, and we all hope that’s not the case.”