Maine’s public colleges and universities are charting their own courses on mask policy, diverging from new state and federal guidelines that no longer recommend face coverings in indoor spaces throughout the state. 

The University of Maine System, which serves close to 30,000 students, plans to keep masks mandatory on all campuses at least until the end of spring break, on March 20, said Dan Demeritt, senior executive director of marketing and communications for the University of Maine.

The Maine Community College System, which also has around 30,000 students, is reassessing its masking policy based on the new guidance but has yet to make any decisions about easing its mask mandate, Noel Gallagher, director of communications and public affairs for the Maine Community College System, told the Press Herald Friday.  

The state’s private colleges, meanwhile, are taking varying approaches. Some are eager to drop mask mandates and others plan to wait and see.

New federal guidelines posted Thursday effectively removed all Maine counties from the high-risk classification, meaning masks are now optional for most people but recommended for people who are at high-risk. The federal update classifies 90 percent of the country and 100 percent of Maine as having medium or low risk of COVID transmission and hospital strain. And updated state guidance released this week recommended that public school districts make indoor mask-wearing optional starting Wednesday.

While many of Maine’s public K-12 schools have taken this new guidance as a go-ahead to make masking optional, representatives from the University of Maine and Maine Community Colleges said they need time to respond to changes in public health guidance.  


“We’re a large institution with many campuses and many stakeholders,” Demeritt said. “We have to take time to assess changes in public health guidance as we work across our universities to assess appropriate changes.”  

This is despite extremely high vaccination rates and generally decreasing COVID-19 cases throughout the state university system.

University of Maine case numbers have been trending down over the last couple of weeks, Demeritt said. The university had 218 known COVID-19 cases on Jan. 18, the first day of the spring semester. This Friday they recorded 43.

According to the university, 96 percent of the system’s total spring population – 21,646 people – is vaccinated and 50 percent is boostered. And 97.7 percent of on-campus residents are vaccinated.

The university system’s vaccination rates are significantly higher than the statewide rate. According to the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 73.5 percent of Mainers are fully vaccinated.

The state’s private colleges, many of which require students to be vaccinated and boostered, are taking varied responses to the new state and federal masking guidelines. 


Bowdoin College and Bates College said they do not plan to ease mask mandates at this time.

Colby College is taking a hybrid approach to unmasking – lifting mandatory mask requirements in “more public facing” buildings, including athletic centers and the admissions building. Although mandatory masking will be the standard in Colby classrooms, the college will allow faculty members to waive that requirement if they choose, a continuation of a policy in place since Feb. 21.

Saint Joseph’s College in Standish started loosening masking requirements on its campus a few weeks ago, before updated CDC guidance was released. Since Feb. 21, they have only mandated masks in classrooms, said Oliver Griswold, the school’s chief brand and marketing officer.

And the University of New England is slated to make masks optional in most indoor spaces starting Monday. 

“We feel confident that we are ready to shift away from mandatory indoor masking for those who are vaccinated,” James Herbert, UNE’s president, said in a letter to the school community. Herbert cited, among other things, the new CDC guidance, a decline in COVID-19 cases and the school’s requirement that all UNE students and employees be vaccinated and boostered. Unvaccinated students must continue to mask up, Herbert said.  



Maine added 31 COVID-19 deaths to the state’s official count on Friday, raising the pandemic death toll to 2,109 residents at the same time the virus is receding and mask recommendations are easing.

The 31 deaths added Friday were likely the result of a review of vital records that identified people diagnosed with the disease who died in recent weeks.

The state added 998 new COVID-19 cases to Maine’s official count on Friday. 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 counted 230,273 cases of COVID-19 during the two-year pandemic.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Maine hospitals remained at 163 on Friday, the fourth day in a row that hospitalizations have remained stable after dropping steadily for several weeks.

Hospitalizations have hovered between 158 and 163 since Tuesday. The decline in hospitalizations has stalled, at least temporarily, after dropping 63 percent below the peak of 436 hospitalized patients on Jan. 13.

Of the people hospitalized Friday, 36 were in intensive care and 13 were on ventilators. The number of critically ill patients also has been relatively stable this week after a period of steady decline.

Comments are no longer available on this story