A sign requires patrons to wear a mask on Congress Street on Thursday night, the first night in a month that masks were not required in public places in Portland. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

PORTLAND — All students, staff and visitors at Portland Public Schools will be required to wear a mask indoors and on school buses starting on Thursday, according to Superintendent Xavier Botana.

“We encourage everyone to begin masking even before Thursday, if possible,” Botana said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine currently has the highest rate of new COVID-19 infections in the U.S.

Cumberland County is now categorized as “red” or “high” by the federal CDC COVID-19 Community Levels tracker.

Botana says pooled testing results and local wastewater data also indicate high positivity rates.

When the transmission of COVID in the community is that high, the CDC recommends that everyone wear a mask indoors.

“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. 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,” Botana said. “This is now a time of high transmission, but few people in our schools are wearing masks. Adding to the risk is the fact that end-of-year ceremonies and other gatherings are taking place. While we are not recommending changes to these events, all these factors make a return to required masking the safest course at this time.”

Botana says to make sure children come to school by Thursday with a well-fitting, protective mask.

Botana says they also have children sized KN95 masks free of charge to students of any families requesting them. Staff will also wear a protective mask.