MEDIA RELEASE: Mills Administration Updates COVID-19 School Health Advisory System

York County joins Androscoggin, Franklin, Somerset, and Washington counties in yellow designation; Cumberland, Hancock, Kennebec counties closely monitored in green

AUGUSTA — The Mills Administration today released an update to its color-coded Health Advisory System that classifies counties’ relative risk of COVID-19 transmission by color and is provided to assist schools as they continue with their plans to deliver instruction and support students safely this fall. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) assessed the data and trends for all counties.

Based on this assessment, York County is now categorized as yellow, joining Androscoggin, Franklin, Somerset and Washington counties, which were designated previously. Cumberland, Hancock and Kennebec counties remain designated as green and continue to be closely monitored. Knox is now designated as green, along with all other counties.

  • NOW YELLOW: York County’s positivity rate has risen to 3.5 percent, making it tied for the third highest county positivity rate.
  • REMAIN YELLOW: Androscoggin County’s number of new cases per capita in the past two weeks increased significantly to a high among Maine counties of 33.8 cases per 10,000.  The new case rate continues to rise in Franklin and Washington counties. Somerset County’s new case rate is third highest among Maine counties at 24.4 cases per 10,000, and its positivity rate is 4.7 percent.
  • NOW GREEN: Knox County’s new case rate per capita is now below the state average.
  • CLOSELY MONITORED: Case trends in Cumberland, Hancock and Kennebec counties continue to require close

Evidence continues to suggest a relatively low risk of school-based transmission of COVID-19 and affirm the importance of keeping some level of in-person instruction for students whenever possible.

School and health officials in Scotland published an analysis of COVID-19 within their systems. Their findings include no direct evidence that transmission of the virus within schools plays a significant role in driving rates of infection among children. Their analysis also found no difference between COVID-19 positivity rates in teachers and school staff relative to other worker groups of the same age. In addition, they found that closing schools presents a serious risk of harm to the wellbeing of children and young people, particularly those who are vulnerable.   

A study from Vermont  found that “School closure alone has minimal effect because disease continues to spread via alternate social contacts in the community.”

Additionally, a recent analysis and statement from Children’s Hospital of Dartmouth-Hitchcock provides a regional lens and strongly affirms the relative safety and importance of in-person instruction for students, and the effectiveness of layered prevention measures for providing a safe learning environment.

These findings affirm Maine’s approach and thorough analysis when determining county designation levels.

These designations are made out of an abundance of caution and for the consideration of school administrative units in their decisions to deliver instruction.

It is essential that school districts across the State of Maine continue to implement plans that adhere to the six requirements for returning to in-person instruction, regardless of their county’s designation.

The Health Advisory System categorizations are defined as follows:

  • RED: Categorization as “red” suggests that the county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that in-person instruction is not advisable.
  • YELLOW: Categorization as “yellow” suggests that that the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider additional precautions and/or hybrid instructional models to reduce the number of people in schools and classrooms at any one time.
  • GREEN: Categorization as “green” suggests that the county has a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider in-person instruction, as long as they are able to implement the required health and safety measures.  Schools in a “green” county may need to use hybrid instruction models if there is insufficient capacity or other factors (facilities, staffing, geography/transportation, etc.) that may prevent full implementation of the health and safety requirements.

The county-level assessments are based on both quantitative and qualitative data, including but not limited to recent case rates, positivity rates, and syndromic data (e.g., symptoms of influenza or COVID-19). Those data are publicly posted every week on the Maine CDC website. DHHS and Maine CDC also consider qualitative factors, such as the presence of outbreaks that may potentially affect school-age children.

The Health Advisory System reflects ongoing analysis of evolving data, and serves as one piece of information that school and district leaders can use to make decisions about how to deliver education this fall. The qualitative and quantitative considerations and data used by the CDC in determining community transmission risk levels for schools can be located here: How County Risk Levels for Maine Schools are Determined

The Health Advisory System can be found on the Maine DOE website in Part I of the Framework for Reopening Schools and Returning to In-Person Classroom Instruction

The next update is scheduled for Dec. 4, 2020.