Maine recommends reopening schools, cites low virus risks

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Schools around Maine are at relatively low risk for the new coronavirus, and that means all of them can open with in-person instruction this year, state officials said Friday.

The state is using a three-tiered system for recommendations about how schools should function as they reopen. The state is rating each county as “green,” “yellow” or “red.” “Green” signifies low risk and means in-person instruction is appropriate.

The administration of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said Friday that every county in the state is in “green” status. That means they can reopen in person as long as they follow safety protocols such as the use of face coverings and physical distancing.

The guidance from the state is intended to be a recommendation, and individual school districts will craft their own plans, officials said. Maine education commissioner Pender Makin said she anticipates some school districts will begin the year with hybrid instruction models.

On the state’s risk chart, “yellow” means elevated risk, and calls for the use of a hybrid model of in-person instruction and remote learning. “Red” means high risk and calls for remote learning. No counties are listed under either of those statuses at the moment, state officials said.

The designations are a tool for local school communities to use as they prepare for the coming academic year, said Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Nirav Shah, who added that the statuses will be updated every two weeks.

“Green designation here is not like the green lights you would find at a drag strip, where green signifies pushing the accelerator as fast as possible and going as fast as possible,” Shah said. “Green here is more like the green light at a car wash, where you with proceed with caution.”

The Mills administration said the health advisory system that categorizes the schools by color is based on data such as case rates and positivity rates.

In other news related to the pandemic in Maine:

NEW CASES

Public health authorities in Maine reported one death and 26 new cases of coronavirus in the state on Friday. Maine has had more than 3,900 reported cases of the virus and 123 deaths.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

___

SOCIAL ISOLATION

A Maine charity fund said it will focus upcoming grants on combating social isolation among older residents of the state.

Maine Community Foundation said Friday the coronavirus pandemic has created a clear need to help keep older residents connected during a period of physical isolation. Older residents face threats to quality of life and health otherwise, it said.

The foundation said almost a third of older Mainers live in communities that don’t have access to public transportation, and that can lead to missed medical appointments, declining nutrition and loneliness. The problems can be especially acute in remote, rural areas of the state, it said.

Grants of up to $10,000 are available through the Maine Charity Foundation Fund, the foundation said. It’s taking applications until Sept. 15.

(Copyright (c) 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)