The Mills Administration today released an updated color coded Health Advisory System that classifies counties’ relative risk of COVID-19 transmission by color for schools as they continue with their plans to deliver instruction and support students safely this fall.

The updated assessment showed that all counties remain green, although Penobscot and York counties will be reassessed next Friday, Sept. 4, to determine if they meet the threshold for yellow or red designation. Recent increasing case rates as well as open outbreaks in Penobscot and York are of concern. Data and trends from these counties will be closely monitored and reassessed early. Other counties will continue to be assessed every two weeks.

The Health Advisory System is a collaboration among the Maine departments of Education and Health and Human Services, and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The classifications were developed to categorize counties based on quantitative and qualitative data about COVID-19 including, but not limited to, recent data on case rates, positivity rates, and syndromic data (e.g., symptoms of influenza or COVID-19). This system categorizes counties by three color-based designations: red, yellow, and green:

Red

Suggests that the county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that in-person instruction is not advisable.

Yellow

Suggests that that the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider additional precautions and/or hybrid instructional models as a way to reduce the number of people in schools and classrooms at any one time.

Green

Suggests that the county has a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider in-person instruction, as long as they are able to implement the required health and safety measures.  Schools in a “green” county may need to use hybrid instruction models if there is insufficient capacity or other factors (facilities, staffing, geography/transportation, etc.) that may prevent full implementation of the health and safety requirements.

Regardless of their county’s red, yellow, or green designation, districts must also meet the following requirements for safely opening schools to protect the safety and well-being of staff, students, and families, which fall into these categories:

  • Symptom screenings before coming to school
  • Physical distancing and school facilities
  • Masks/face coverings
  • Hand hygiene
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Return to school after illness

The Maine CDC, in collaboration with Maine DOE, has also released a draft Standard Operating Procedure, subject to further revisions, for schools to follow in the event of a positive case of COVID-19 at a school. The SOP provides guidance on how cases will be defined and investigated, the role of school nurses, testing recommendations, isolation and quarantine requirements, and the notification process for probable and confirmed cases, including to family members and school communities.

The SOP also addresses how public health authorities will determine close contacts for individuals if a case of COVID-19 is identified.

Maine CDC will work with School Administrative Units to identify potential locations where students, faculty, or staff could obtain COVID-19 testing. State-sponsored sample collection sites can be found on maine.gov/covid19/restartingmaine/keepmainehealthy/testing or https://get-tested-covid19.org.

Gov. Mills has also signed an Executive Order expediting and expanding certain teaching certification requirements to ensure Maine schools have the qualified staff they need to safely reopen this fall. If necessary to respond to shortages in essential school staff, the governor’s Executive Order authorizes Maine DOE to provide one-year emergency teaching certifications to qualified individuals.

In partnership with Eastern Maine Community College, DOE will also offer a certification for “Learning Facilitators.” These pre-teacher-level staff members can staff learning centers or serve as an in-person learning assistant for a remote instruction teacher.

The Executive Order also establishes health and safety requirements as well as other expectations for in-person, hybrid and remote education as defined by  Maine DOE’s Framework for Reopening Schools and Returning to In-Person Instruction which must be adopted by schools.

The Health Advisory System reflects ongoing analysis of evolving data and serves as one piece of information that school and district leaders can use to make decisions about how to deliver education this fall. It generally will be updated at noon every other Friday, and can be found on the Maine DOE website in Part I of the Framework for Reopening Schools and Returning to In-Person Classroom Instruction: maine.gov/doe/framework/part-I.