Schools In Maine Are Reinstating Mask Mandates

As the new COVID variant ravages the east coast, school districts in Maine are returning to mask mandates.

By Rick Gonzales | Published

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They’re back and there are going to be quite a few unhappy people. Because of the increase in COVID cases in the state of Maine, a number of school districts are returning to mask mandates. It’s a decision that Xavier Botana, superintendent of the state’s largest school district in Portland, understands isn’t a popular one.

“I understand how disappointing this change may be to many of you who stopped wearing a mask when masking became optional on March 14 at a time of low case counts,” Botana wrote in a letter about mask mandates to parents. “However, I cautioned at that time that if our school and community data changed, we might need to increase our mitigation strategies, including returning to masking in some schools or district-wide.”

Superintendent Botana continued on saying even now, during the high rates of transmissions that very few people in the districts are wearing masks. He says that the upcoming end-of-school-year activities, graduations, and other large gatherings are taking place making the risk of COVID transmission even higher. He says that at the moment, making a change to any of these events is not being recommended, the simple fact that crowds will be gathering makes it necessary to return to the mask mandates.

While the mask mandate will go back into full effect on Thursday, Botana is hoping everyone will be proactive and return to masking even before Thursday. “We encourage everyone to begin masking even before Thursday, if possible,” Botana said to Fox News 23.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Maine now has the highest new COVID infection rates in the United States. The many new sub-variants of the omicron strain are the reason for the major uptick in COVID infection in the state. These new, highly transmissible, variants equate to 80 percent of new infections making the mask mandates necessary, according to the CDC.

“BA.4, BA.5 and others related to the earlier Omicron variants are continuing to sweep across the country and across Maine,” said State Epidemiologist, Dr. Isaac Benowitz via WGME News. “We are still seeing cases and we are still seeing hospitalizations. ” According to the Maine CDC numbers, just a couple of weeks ago, the entire state only had 100 patients with COVID. Now, the state numbers are sitting at 372 cases per 100,000 residents. This big jump has come over the past week.

mask mandates

“I think it makes sense to take precautions [mask mandates] when COVID is around and when there’s more of it around,” Benowitz said. “We’ve gotten quite good at these precautions over the past few years but what we’ve gotten a little less good at is actually using them when we know that we need them.” Of course, experts still claim that COVID vaccines and boosters are the first and best line of defense against COVID and continue to push the fact. They also know that after everything that has transpired with the vaccines and boosters that there are still plenty of naysayers to go that road. This is why the mask mandate is making a return and don’t be surprised if your school district is next.

With Maine’s numbers on the rise, the Portland School District isn’t the only one reinstituting the mask mandate. Bangor Public Schools have also returned to mandatory masking. Superintendent James Tager announced his mask mandate intentions after Penobscot County entered the high-risk red zone.

“Should the CDC change the risk level to YELLOW or GREEN, the Bangor School Department will return to an optional masking policy,” Tager said in his letter to families via News Center Maine. “All staff are being extra diligent in their work to ensure that all safety protocols are followed and that students can continue in-person learning, activities, and enjoy end of the school year celebrations.”

Credit: CDC

Although Tager, like Botana, understands families’ frustrations, “We ask for continued cooperation from our school families to adhere to our protocols; wear your mask when in schools, continue to wash your hands often, physically distance, and practice healthy hygiene.” It remains to be seen just how long public schools will remain under the mask mandate. Botana says that children who are unable to supply their own masks will have children-sized N95 masks wait for them at school on Thursday, free of charge.