LEWISTON — Vaccinated students will continue to mask up in school for the rest of the year, despite new rules effective Monday allowed fully vaccinated people to shed their masks indoors in most settings.
In some indoor public spaces, like health care facilities, masks will continue to be required.
“The approach we’re taking is to stay the course,” Lewiston Schools Superintendent Jake Langlais said. “And we don’t know who’s been vaccinated and who’s not.”
“Students are wearing masks and will keep wearing masks,” he said.
The same for Poland Regional High School and schools across Maine.
“The Department of Education guidance still requires masks in school,” Poland high school Principal Cari Medd said.
Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin said Tuesday that the CDC announcement “allowing people to be masked indoors in public spaces does not (thankfully) apply in pre-K-12 schools. This hasn’t been well advertised at the national level,” Makin said in an email. “We at the Department of Education realize we need to do a bit more communication around it here in Maine.”
The rationale, she said, is that most students are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19, and students under age 12 are not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 shot.
Langlais said he doesn’t know whether Lewiston schools will be fully open with in-person learning in the fall but hoping to know soon.
Meanwhile his schools will continue hybrid learning, testing for the virus, social distancing and remote learning when necessary.
Students who are vaccinated no longer need to quarantine when exposed to someone at school who has tested positive.
“That’s a big step,” Langlais said.
Gov. Janet Mills announced Friday that beginning Monday, fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks indoors in most situations.
Langlais said he’s not sure if the timing is right for that, given that cases are still high in Androscoggin County. State statistics reported Tuesday show that Androscoggin County continues to lead all other counties for having the highest percentage of COVID-19 cases.
As of last week, Central Maine Medical Center’s COVID-19 unit remained at capacity, and the county has among the lowest vaccination rates in Maine.
On Tuesday, the state average of eligible residents who have had their final COVID-19 vaccination was 54.07%; Androscoggin County’s rate was 46.04%.
Langlais said he’s torn about Mills’ unmasking directive, which follows the federal Center for Disease Control directive that it’s OK for the vaccinated to no longer wear masks indoors in most situations.
“It feels like an economic (reason), trying to open things back up,” he said.
It may be the correct move for the state, but he questioned whether it’s the right for Androscoggin County, “being in a community that is still seeing a lot of positive cases. We’re still getting calls about students testing positive,” Langlais said. He just learned “Farwell Elementary is an outbreak site.”
It’s not hard to wear a mask in stores and restaurants, he said. For those who are not vaccinated and exposed to the virus, “a mask is the only defense.”
It seems contradictory, Langlais said, that schools will continue to have students and staff wear masks, “yet people will be able to go to restaurants and grocery stores with lots of people without a mask. Pick one.”
Langlais plans to continue masking up in stores for a while, to protect others because even though he’s fully vaccinated, he could still catch the virus, be asymptomatic and pass it to someone else.
As head of Lewiston’s public schools, wearing a mask in public makes sense “as someone who is a role model,” he said. “And I don’t know who else in the store is vaccinated.”