Masks will once again be required in Portland schools starting Thursday in response to the recent sharp increase in COVID-19 infections.

“This step has become necessary to help keep everyone safe as positive cases of COVID-19 are rapidly increasing in our community and schools,” Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana wrote in a letter to students and their families Tuesday.

Bangor schools reinstated a mask mandate Monday, citing the increase in cases and the latest federal recommendations that masks be worn indoors in eight of Maine’s 16 counties, including Penobscot and Cumberland.

A sharp spike in cases pushed Maine’s infection rate to the nation’s highest last week, but new COVID-19 cases have declined this week and Maine now ranks fourth after Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Vermont, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Maine has recorded 358.4 cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days, compared to the national average of 157.5 cases per 100,000. Rhode Island’s rate is 420.8 cases per 100,000 residents.

Maine reported 771 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and two additional deaths. The seven-day average of new cases declined to 690 from last week’s 809. It’s too soon to know whether the latest wave of cases has peaked in Maine or just paused, but other Northeast states have not seen any sustained decrease in case numbers.

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The number of hospitalized patients with COVID dropped slightly Tuesday to 207, down from 209 Monday but more than double the number reported three weeks ago. Of those hospitalized Tuesday morning, 29 were in critical care and two were on ventilators.

 

Since the pandemic began, the state has recorded 251,905 cases and 2,327 deaths.

Cases within the Portland public school system have risen over the past few weeks. The district reported 130 cases across its 17 schools the week of May 1-7, a sharp increase over April, and has reported 60 cases so far this week. The district reported only 26 cases the week of April 3-9.

The case increases in Portland schools are consistent with COVID patterns in the greater community.

Cumberland County is one of eight in Maine with high level of infection, according to the U.S. CDC. The CDC recommends indoor masking when infection risk is high.

Aroostook County continues to have the highest rate of new infections in Maine with 650 cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days. That compares to 397 cases per 100,000 in Cumberland County and 417 cases per 100,000 people statewide.

Maine’s more populated counties have seen daily case counts ease this week.


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