Maine Adopts Color-Coded System for Safety of Reopening Schools

Each of Maine's 16 counties will be grouped as red, yellow or green based on whether health and education officials believe in-class instruction can be safely implemented

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Maine officials have unveiled the parts of the state being considered safe to reopen schools.

On Friday, state education and public health officials designated a color to each of Maine's 16 counties that corresponded to its risk level for sending children back to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of July 31, the risk was rated green, the lowest risk category for every county.

"The green here is not like the green light at a drag strip," said Maine Center for Disease Control Director Dr. Nirav Shah. "The green light here is more like the green light at a car wash in that you enter slowly, you look around you with caution and you're prepared to stop at any time."

Shah used the analogy to underscore his point that in Maine's county-by-county color-coded system for schools, green or low-risk schools that allow in-person instruction would only be able to control COVID-19 in school communities if precautions like hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing are observed.

Under Maine's system, a yellow ranking for a county would mean that schools in that area have an elevated risk and could consider a mix of in-person and online instruction to reduce the amount of people in a school building at once.

A red ranking would mean there is a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that the state would advise against in-person classes in that county.

"We will continue to support our schools through financial resources and guidance," said Pender Makin, the commissioner of Maine's Department of Education.

Makin explained however, that Maine's constitution puts the control of schools in mostly local hands, which means that while the state can issue advisories, local communities would have no formal obligation to follow them.

That also means it is possible that some areas may not see equitable application of safety measures or resources provided by the state, even if they are available.

"I wish I could say that all schools in our state were equally or equitably resourced," said Makin. "If anyone is feeling under resourced or nervous, they should reach out [to state officials]."

The next county-by-county update for Maine's color-coded system is expected in mid-August.

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