Maine Gov. Janet Mills on Friday announced new steps her administration is taking to assist schools in reopening safely this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a remote news conference, Mills said the Maine Department of Education, in partnership with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has updated its "Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction," which was originally posted in June.
The framework includes health and safety protocols that all schools must follow to protect students and staff if they decide to return to in-classroom instruction, Mills said.
"Like many parents and teachers, I am concerned about the children who are being left behind and the inequities that have been exacerbated by this pandemic. For the sake of Maine children, their futures, and the livelihoods of Maine families, returning to classroom instruction when it is safe to do so must be our shared goal," Mills said.
School superintendents and school boards will be provided with public health guidance in the form of a three-tiered health advisory system to help them make decisions on whether to bring students back to the classroom, Mills said. That tiered system was developed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Maine CDC and takes into account public health metrics on a county by county basis, she said.
The tiered system will be broken down into colored levels of COVID-19 risk and based on recent coronavirus case rates, positivity rates and syndromic data, Mills said.
"We will follow the best available science to support our colleagues at the Maine Department of Education and local school districts as they take steps to educate Maine students safely and effectively," said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine CDC. "Science has guided our planning and response to the pandemic, and it will continue to do so as Maine prepares for a new school year."
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Among those precautions schools must take are that symptom screenings must be taken before students come to schools, there must be physical distancing within school facilities, face coverings must be worn, proper hand hygiene must be adhered to, staff must wear personal protective equipment when in close proximity to students, and students and staff must remain isolated at home if they are sick.
The new framework, Mills said, will be financially supported by nearly $165 million in Federal CARES Act funding. It comes as the Trump administration continues to push states to reopen schools.
"That goal cannot be achieved at the expense of peoples' health and safety, regardless of what the Trump Administration says," Mills said. "I want students, parents, teachers, and school staff to feel safe and confident in returning to school."
On Friday, one more Maine resident with the new coronavirus was reported dead, bringing the state's death toll to 115, according to the Maine CDC. An additional 38 positive cases of coronavirus were reported Friday bringing the total number of cases to 3,636, health officials reported.