School officials in Maine and around the country will be watching to see if COVID-19 cases rise when students return from spring break next week.

But local school superintendents said they will rely on the same protocols that were in place before the break and do not anticipate a need to restore mask mandates despite a rise in cases throughout the Northeast fueled by the more contagious omicron BA.2 subvariant.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine declined on Friday and continues to hover around 100. A total of 103 patients were hospitalized as of Friday morning, including 19 in critical care and two on ventilators. That’s a slight drop from Thursday’s count of 107, which was the highest number in more than a month.

The average number of new cases reported by the state has increased about 50 percent over the past weeks, from about 200 cases a day to around 300.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 467 new cases Friday and two additional deaths. The actual number of new infections is significantly higher than the daily reports because many people are now relying on at-home tests, which are not included in the official counts. Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 241,716 cases and 2,280 deaths.

Maine’s rise in infections coincides with increases across the Northeast following the spread of the omicron BA.2 subvariant, which is more contagious than the original omicron variant.


Hospitalizations also have started to rise in the Northeast, although not as significantly as infection rates. The number of new hospital admissions is up 24 percent over the past week in New England, according to the U.S. CDC.

Public health experts are not projecting a big leap in hospitalizations because both omicron variants tend to cause less severe cases than some previous variants, and with high levels of the population immunized through vaccination and prior infection, there are fewer people to infect. Also, people who are vaccinated and get breakthrough cases of COVID-19 are much more likely to have only mild symptoms and not need hospitalization.

Previous school vacations have led to a rise in cases as students who traveled or gathered with families returned to classrooms. School officials say they will be tracking COVID levels, but do not plan on imposing any new precautions.

There are slight divergences in COVID mitigation strategies around the state, but districts generally plan to keep masks optional and continue to encourage students with symptoms to get tested and stay home if they see a positive result. Schools also plan to continue with pooled-testing, which combines samples from multiple people to save time and testing supplies, until the state discontinues the federally funded program on May 13. Then they will encourage students to use at-home tests provided by the state.

The state plans to send free at-home test kits with five to six tests to schools that request them. They will start sending out the 211,048 test kits that have been ordered next week. Schools will then make the test kits available to families.



Old Orchard Beach Superintendent John Suttie said he always has some level of concern because of the pandemic’s propensity to change rapidly, but he is hoping there won’t be a spike. He plans to keep his district mask-optional as long as that is the recommendation from the state.

“As long as the situation doesn’t change, we are moving back towards normalcy,” he said. The high school’s prom is planned for May 7 and the district is planning for it to be in-person and mask-free.

Procedures from before the break also will remain in place for Cape Elizabeth schools, said Superintendent Michelle McClellan. The district will continue to encourage distancing, spending time outdoors, vigorous hand washing and staying home when sick, she said. Masks will remain optional.

“We feel the mitigation strategies have been implemented well and we are ready to rely on that following students coming back,” she said.

In an April 15 staff and community newsletter, Portland Public School District Superintendent Xavier Botana urged staff, students and family members to monitor their COVID symptoms, contact the school nurse if they think they might have contracted the virus and take a rapid test before returning to school.

“We continue to monitor our data to determine if we need to make any districtwide or school-specific changes to our mitigation strategies,” he said.


Although numbers remain low, COVID cases have risen in the Portland School District in recent weeks. It recorded 43 cases on April 10, two weeks before spring break, up from 15 cases in March. The Portland district is the state’s largest, serving around 6,500 students.

School officials in other states also are watching COVID trends as students return from spring break, and many cities and states are relying on at-home tests supplied before the vacation week to help detect any spike in cases. Schools in California, New York City and Baltimore distributed free tests ahead of spring break so students could take tests and confirm they are COVID free before returning to school on Monday.


When compared to the rest of the country, Maine and the other Northeast states are experiencing the highest rates of community transmission.

Maine has recorded 157 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days, compared to the national rate of 90 cases.

Aroostook County was reclassified as being at high risk for virus transmission and hospital burden, according to federal data updated late Thursday.

The high-risk category on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID Data Tracker map means that community transmission of the virus is high and could strain hospital capacity. People living in high-risk areas are urged to wear a mask indoors in public spaces.

Franklin County is now considered to be at moderate risk. Residents of moderate risk counties are advised to wear masks when indoors if they are at high risk of complications from COVID-19 because of their age or underlying health conditions.

All other Maine counties are classified as low-risk, which means there is no universal recommendation to wear masks indoors. The virus is still circulating in low-risk areas, but there is little chance that illnesses will strain hospital capacity.

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