The Mills administration is dropping its recommendation that masks be worn inside schools and child care centers.

Maine’s official recommendation is that mask wearing should become optional starting next Wednesday. It will be up to individual school districts to decide whether to rescind mask mandates, and many already are doing so or preparing to based on a steady drop in cases.

While the updated recommendation could lead to a broader easing of mask policies by employers and businesses, the state did not specifically recommend that masks should be optional in workplaces or other public spaces. Except for those in the health care or child care sectors, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has not provided business-specific mask guidelines or regulations since last May.

“Maine people should make decisions about masks that they believe are in the best interest of their health while being considerate of those around them,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a written statement.

The CDC warned that the recommendation for schools could change if pandemic conditions worsen.

“This change is dependent on continued stability in COVID-19 trends in Maine, including reduced hospitalizations, reduced virus levels in wastewater, and reduced school outbreaks and absenteeism, among other quantitative and qualitative factors,” the administration said in a statement. “It also comes as Maine and the rest of the nation enter a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, where vaccines, therapeutics and other interventions highly effective at preventing serious illness and death are widely available.”


Schools around the state have been waiting for the announcement and are quickly moving to follow the new CDC guidelines and make face coverings optional beginning March 9.

“We’ve never deviated from (state health advice) so we’re not going to do that now,” Old Orchard Beach Superintendent John Suttie said Wednesday. “If universal masking is no longer the recommendation, we’re going to make it optional.”

Other York County schools plan to do the same, said Suttie, who attended a York County superintendents meeting Wednesday morning.  “Everybody in York County is pretty locked tight in that we’re going to proceed with following state CDC guidelines,” he said.

State officials said the lead time before the change takes effect gives schools time to consider the guidance and prepare. In some case, policies need to be formally changed. Some districts also are waiting for the state Department of Education to change its operating guidelines, which set out additional safety measures for school districts without mask mandates.


Yarmouth is making masks optional on Monday and other schools also may follow suit before Wednesday. Lewiston Superintendent Jake Langlais said that if Androscoggin County moves to a lower federal risk category this week, Lewiston schools will start making face coverings optional on Monday as well.


“There is a significant push to go masking optional,” he said.

Others may not change policies immediately.

Portland school officials said at a Tuesday night board meeting that the district will continue to follow the Maine Department of Education’s guidance and require masks until the area experiences a period of consistently low case counts and students are able to eat and spend more time outdoors. The department’s standard operating procedures had not yet been updated in accordance with new guidelines from the Mills administration.

Teacher Kellie Beres, left, works with Jossolyn Riccardo, a junior at Old Orchard Beach High School during an anatomy and physiology class Monday February 8, 2022. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Maine was the only state in New England that had not previously set a date for removing an indoor mask mandate or recommending when masking can become optional in schools. Governors in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut have either already made masking optional in schools or set a date in the near future for masks to become optional.

The Maine CDC does not mandate a policy for schools, but most schools have followed its recommendation to impose mask mandates. While some school districts already had moved toward lifting the mandates, many were awaiting the green light from the Mills administration.



The Maine CDC continues to recommend universal masking in medical facilities, long-term care facilities and other congregate living facilities as an added layer of protection for vulnerable populations in those settings. The Maine CDC also recommends that masks be worn by people completing their isolation and quarantine periods after being infected or exposed.

Some pediatricians in Maine and other states had cautioned against listing mask mandates, and are continuing to recommend masks be worn by individuals at higher risk of complications from the virus.

“While CDC’s new approach is reasonable, pediatricians urge state and local policy makers to keep in mind the unique needs of children when considering COVID-19 mitigation measures,” American Academy of Pediatrics President Moira Szilagyi said in a statement Tuesday.

Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a South Portland pediatrician and vice president of the Maine Chapter of American Pediatrics, agreed with Szilagyi’s assessment. “We need to realize that the pandemic is not over for children that cannot be immunized or those that are immunocompromised or otherwise have special health care needs,” she said.

Still, Blaisdell said the decision to move back some of the layers of public health protection at this time is appropriate given the availability of vaccines to everybody over the age of 5.

As the state moves forward with optional masking, Blaisdell said it will be important to create an environment that respects the decisions people make about whether to mask. “We need to be mindful of each individual choice,” she said.



The updated CDC guidelines come just two days after the release of a report that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is significantly less effective in children 5-11 than for other age groups. The Pfizer shot is the only vaccine approved for that age range.

The report, based on data collected by New York health officials, says that although the vaccine substantially protects against serious illness and hospitalization, it offers a small barrier against infection. The lower dose given to children 5-11 compared to other age groups may explain the drop in effectiveness, the report said. It has not yet been peer reviewed.

“These results highlight the potential need to study alternative vaccine dosing for children and the continued importance of layered protections, including mask wearing, to prevent infection and transmission,” the report states.

Blaisdell said she was “exceedingly disappointed” about the decrease in vaccine effectiveness for the younger age group, but encouraged people to continue to move forward with vaccination, citing its protection against hospitalization and severe disease.

Federal guidelines that were updated last week still recommend masks be worn indoors in most parts of Maine. However, a Press Herald analysis shows that without a backlog of unprocessed positive tests creating artificially high case counts, most of Maine would fall under federal risk categories that would recommend masks become optional in schools.


Maine’s artificially high case count that includes cases from a voluminous backlog is skewing the results of a calculation the federal agency is using to make masking recommendations.

Shah said on Tuesday that although the backlog is influencing the results somewhat, the U.S. CDC’s placement of most of Maine in the “high” category is largely accurate due to the rate of new admissions for hospitalizations and hospital capacity. Maine’s hospitalization rate is improving, but as a largely rural state, the hospital capacity is lower compared to urban areas of the nation.

However, an analysis of unprocessed positive tests from Feb. 10-24, when compared with new hospital admissions and hospital capacity, shows that likely only two counties, Aroostook and Knox, would still be in the “high” category with masks recommended for schools. All other Maine counties would be in “moderate” or “low” with masking optional, according to the Press Herald analysis.

By using unprocessed positive tests, the case counts that are part of the backlog are not included in the analysis, painting a picture of case counts closer to what was actually happening on Feb. 24, when the U.S. CDC released the color codes for each county.


Maine reported Wednesday that 13 more residents have died with COVID-19, a grim reminder that the pandemic continues even as all other signs show the omicron surge is rapidly receding in the state.


It was not immediately clear whether the deaths reported Wednesday happened this week or were added to the state’s count after a periodic review of vital records to identify COVID-related deaths that occurred in recent weeks and months.

Maine reported that 162 COVID-19 patients were in the state’s hospitals as of Wednesday. That’s a slight increase from Tuesday, but a decline of 60 percent from the peak of 436 hospitalized patients on Jan. 13.

The CDC also added 909 more cases of COVID-19 to the state’s official count. Those cases do not represent new infections, however, because the state is still working to process positive tests submitted weeks ago during the height of the omicron surge.

Maine has now recorded a total of 228,241 cases and 2,078 deaths during the pandemic.

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