Signs are displayed next to the door of the Marsh River Co-op in Brooks informing customers that masks are required and that there is a five customer limit. If the green light is on, customers can enter. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

An outbreak tied to the Brooks Pentecostal Church has caused the state to downgrade Waldo County’s school safety rating.

The Maine Department of Education on Friday changed Waldo County’s safety rating to “yellow,” signaling that it’s not safe for schools in the county of fewer than 40,000 residents to open in person full time.


Waldo is currently the only county the state has designated “yellow,” meaning it’s only safe for schools there to use a hybrid model in which students learn in person only part of the week.

York County had been labeled “yellow” since early September as it contended with a number of large outbreaks following an Aug. 7 wedding in the Katahdin region, but the state returned York County’s classification to green last Friday. Oxford County is the only other Maine county that has had a yellow rating at any point since the state started evaluating counties using the color-coded system this summer.

The outbreak tied to the Brooks Pentecostal Church, which has now grown to 57 cases, quickly changed the virus trajectory for Waldo County, which had seen little growth in cases since it experienced one of Maine’s first large coronavirus outbreaks at The Commons at Tall Pines nursing home early in the pandemic.

Now, Waldo County has seen the state’s highest positivity rate and highest rate of new virus cases over the past two weeks. Some 1.4 percent of virus tests in Waldo County have come back positive over the past two weeks, compared to a statewide rate of 0.4 percent. The county has also seen 14.35 new cases per 10,000 residents in that time, compared with the statewide rate of 3.38, according to Maine CDC data.

Waldo County, home to 3 percent of the state’s population, has seen 14 percent of the state’s new virus cases over the past two weeks.

As the church outbreak has grown, a handful of schools in Waldo County have seen connected COVID-19 cases in the last week and closed for a few days as a result. Some Belfast-area schools also called off athletic competitions in light of the outbreak.