Maine CDC & DOE Update Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Schools; Plan to Engage with School Administrators to Consider Additional Changes

For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Robert Long at Maine CDC

AUGUSTA – The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) and the Maine Department of Education (DOE) announced today further revisions to the Maine CDC’s public health guidance for responding to a positive case of COVID-19 in schools.

These revisions come in advance of students returning from winter break and, among other changes, reflect recently updated guidance from the U.S. CDC on quarantine and isolation periods. The revisions are intended to help keep students in-classroom while protecting their health and safety and that of staff.

Additionally, the Maine Department of Education, along with the Maine CDC, will continue to engage with school administrators from across the state to gather operational input on further potential changes to the guidance in light of the Omicron variant. These potential changes would continue to prioritize in-person learning and help keep children safely in the classroom.

Today’s changes to the School Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are as follows:

  • Isolation and quarantine periods for students and staff are shortened consistent with recently updated guidance from the U.S. CDC,
  • The Maine CDC is aligning its definition of what constitutes a COVID-19 outbreak in schools with the State’s longstanding definition of an outbreak of other infectious diseases in schools. Effective immediately, the Maine CDC will open an outbreak investigation if a school reports that more than 15 percent of a school population is absent, which is the standard currently utilized to define an outbreak from other infectious diseases, such as influenza.
  • The Maine CDC will no longer consider exposure to COVID-19 in an outdoor setting or on a school bus, where the Federal government requires masks be worn, as a “close contact.”
  • The Maine CDC is updating its “test to stay” pooled testing program to enable more students to stay in the classroom. Previously, students and staff participating in pooled testing who were exposed to COVID-19 outside of a school setting were required to quarantine and not attend school. If they were exposed to COVID-19 in a school setting and participating in pooled testing, then they were not required to quarantine from school. Now, regardless of where the exposure occurs, if a student or staff member is participating in pooled testing, then they will not be required to quarantine from school.

Consistent with U.S. CDC guidance, the Maine CDC continues to recommend universal indoor masking by students, staff members, faculty, and visitors in K–12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Local school boards are charged with the responsibility of implementing masking requirements for their school systems.

The Mills Administration has prioritized in-classroom learning and has provided school administrative units will several options to ensure that students can remain in school, including vaccination, universal masking, and pooled testing.

Maine has become a leader in pooled testing in schools. Pooled testing involves combining samples from individuals in a common group setting, such as a school, and has emerged as one of the most important tools in keeping preK-12 schools open and ensuring that Maine children can learn in person. Pooled testing allows schools to perform wide-scale testing of school communities efficiently and to easily identify positive cases in individuals who may be asymptomatic, notify close contacts, and reduce the number of children and staff who need to quarantine.

As of the week of December 20, 416 K-12 schools with 61,879 staff and students were participating in pooled testing statewide. This represents nearly 30 percent of all Maine staff and students. The Department of Health and Human Services’ pooled-testing contractor, Concentric, has reported that Maine’s participation rate for schools enrolling in the program is one of the highest they’ve observed across the country. Concentric works with Maine and eight other states to provide pooled testing in schools. Additional schools, students, and staff are encouraged to participate in this program, which the Department of Health and Human Services provides at no cost.

According to Maine’s Vaccination Dashboard, as of December 29, 2021, 49.3 percent of children ages 5 to 19 were fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Data from the U.S. CDC tracker show that Maine ranks fourth highest among states in the percent of 5 to 17 year olds fully vaccinated. As of the end of October, 83 percent of school staff were fully vaccinated. More than 500 vaccine clinics have been held at or coordinated with schools this fall, with more scheduled for the new year.

Since the fall of 2020, all Maine pre-K-12 schools have been providing in-person instruction to students.

The updated public health guidance for responding to a positive case of COVID-19 in schools can be viewed HERE.