Some think it’s too early for schools to end mask mandates. Others say it has taken far too long.

All we can say for sure is that the mandates – a key strategy against COVID – are going to end sometime, and some time soon, as this COVID wave comes to an end, and that when they do, there will be something less than universal agreement within school buildings across the state.

We can also say with certainty that anyone who puts their mask away for good hasn’t been paying attention.

As we enter yet another phase of the pandemic, both students and their parents should be reminded that whatever their personal point of view, everyone sees COVID and its attendant risks differently. Not everyone will handle the transition back to a mask-free school the same – not after two years of a pandemic that has killed about 1 million Americans.

A relatively small but very vocal minority has fought mask mandates since the outset of the pandemic, spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories while attacking teachers, administrators and school board members.

But a larger group is simply sick of masks and the two-year-long mess of tragedy and disruption that they signify.


Included in this group are students who haven’t gone to class maskless since spring of 2020, and who want to return to a sense of pre-COVID normalcy.

There’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to do that – safely, and soon. Like other states before it, Maine is seeing the omicron wave subside. The level of the virus detected in wastewater is down precipitously from its winter peak, and just 75 positive cases statewide were reported to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday, after averaging 300-400 a day last week, and 2,500-3,500 a day in early and mid January.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the CDC, said this week the state is waiting to see if the improvements continue, and if they hold up following February vacation, before recommending to schools that they drop their mask mandates.

That’s the right move, and we hope the school districts that have already dropped their mandates don’t find it was too early.

In any case, it won’t be long before COVID levels and other key metrics, such as hospitalizations, fall enough so that the mandates no longer make sense, at least for the time being. Masks are nowhere near the burden some make them out to be, and there is no evidence they’ve harmed students. But students shouldn’t have to wear them if there’s little COVID in their communities, particularly when few adults are required to put one on.

But for every student who’s ready to pull off their mask, there are others not quite there yet, or who have people at home still very vulnerable to COVID, such as siblings too young to be vaccinated, grandparents or someone who is immunosuppressed. Some teachers, administrators and other school employees face the same situation.


Students, and their parents, should consider those fellow community members and respect their circumstances.

And everyone who decides in the coming weeks to stop wearing a mask, whether it’s at school, work or the grocery store, should remember that it may have to go back on if the virus changes course, just as it has several times before.

“It will not be long before something else makes its way to the United States, let alone to Maine,” Shah said Monday in Waterville. “So we are trying to see what else is out there that we can prepare and plan for.”

That’s good advice for all of us.

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