Maine is still giving schools in every county the green light to reopen in person, but that green light comes with a caveat in Penobscot and York counties due to recent outbreaks and increasing case numbers.
The Maine Department of Education on Friday updated its color-coded system advising schools on whether it’s safe to reopen for in-person instruction. All Maine counties have remained in green territory since the state introduced the advisory system on July 31.
However, the state plans to reassess the safety of in-person schooling in Penobscot and York counties next week, just as many schools are starting the academic year. The two counties have been affected by the state’s most sprawling outbreak to date connected to an Aug. 7 wedding and reception in the Millinocket area.
The state has now connected 123 cases to that wedding and linked two other outbreaks to the initial one. One of those outbreaks is at the York County Jail in Alfred, where 54 people have now tested positive for the coronavirus. A staff member who attended the wedding was among the first at the jail to test positive.
Schools in the Millinocket area have already delayed their openings by two weeks because of the wedding outbreak. Several staff members in the East Millinocket School Department, including the superintendent, tested positive for the coronavirus after a school staff member worked at the wedding as a musician.
York County has also recently seen at least four cases among firefighters associated with the Sanford, Buxton and Saco fire departments.
And there’s another York County connection to the Millinocket-area wedding, as state health officials confirmed this week that the wedding officiant came from the Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford.
The state’s color-coded advisory system gives counties a green designation if it’s safe to return in person, a yellow designation if the state recommends a hybrid approach to schooling that combines remote and in-person instruction and a red designation when the state recommends fully remote learning.
While the entire state has the green designation, most districts are preparing for a school year that combines in-person and remote learning.
Bangor schools Superintendent Betsy Webb said in an email to parents late Friday that she would recommend that the city’s schools switch to all remote learning if the state changes Penobscot County to yellow or red next Friday, when the state plans to reassess the county’s designation. The city had been planning to deploy three learning arrangements this fall depending on parents’ preferences — fully remote instruction, fully in-person instruction, or a hybrid arrangement that allows students to learn remotely for part of the week and in person on other days.
“I know this is difficult on everyone,” Webb said. “Changing schedules so late is challenging and frustrating. Unfortunately, I believe our new normal is waiting every two weeks for our color designation and adjusting as needed.”