PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The administration of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills told Maine's school districts Wednesday that the state expects all schools to resume full-time, in-person learning in the fall.
The Maine Department of Education also told the school districts that physical distancing requirements will be relaxed next year. It also encouraged schools to participate in a free testing program designed to protect students who are not yet old enough to receive a coronavirus vaccine.
The state's policy of requiring masks in schools has not changed, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said Wednesday.
“School administrators and teachers have worked hard all year to protect their students from the virus, provide them with a good education, and meet many of their other needs," Mills said. "With the progress we've made in vaccinating Maine people, we want to make sure that there are no barriers to getting our kids back into the classroom full-time.”
The Mills administration said it has also updated its guidance for summer school to eliminate distancing requirements for schools and programs that participate in the testing program.
The vast majority of Maine schools have been providing in-person instruction since the fall, the Maine Department of Education said in a statement. Transmission of coronavirus has been lower in schools than the statewide average, the department said.
In other pandemic news in Maine:
Health officials reported that health care providers in the state have now administered more doses of coronavirus vaccines than there are residents of Maine. That's possible because two of the available vaccines require two doses.
More than 1.4 million doses have been administered, state officials reported. The population of Maine is about 1.3 million. About 54% of the state's population is now fully vaccinated.
“These vaccines are spectacularly effective, and have exceeded the expectations that almost any person could have,” Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said.
New cases of the virus are also continuing to fall.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 146.43 new cases a day on May 24 to 73.43 new cases a day on Monday. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 2.71 deaths a day on May 24 to 2.14 deaths a day Monday.
The AP is using data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering to measure outbreak caseloads and deaths across the United States.
Maine CDC reported Wednesday that the state has been the site of 843 deaths from the virus since the start of the pandemic.
Maine might create a special commission to review the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in the state.
The COVID-19 Review Commission would be tasked with studying the way Maine has handled the pandemic. The Maine State Senate has unanimously granted initial approval to the creation of the commission.
Republican Sen. Lisa Keim, who touted the creation of the commission months ago, said the commission would be able to assess the outcomes of the actions Maine’s government took during the pandemic. She said it is “very important that we have a full, thorough review of state government’s actions and their effectiveness.”
If the commission is created, it would have to submit an interim report about its findings to the Maine Legislature by Dec. 6. A final report would be due about a year later. The Maine Legislature must first approve the creation of the commission.
Maine has been the site of more than 68,000 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic. That is less of a burden than most states that have similar population sizes.
The state remains under a “state of civil emergency” order and there are no immediate plans to change it, Lambrew said. Mills declared the emergency and her office has said it allows the state to “deploy all available tools to respond to and contain COVID-19.”
Lambrew said the state is reevaluating the need for the emergency order every month.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.