COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in Maine schools have plummeted by more than 50 percent in the past week, the state Department of Education reported Thursday.

The steep drop comes as most schools are converting to mask-optional policies in response to the receding omicron wave and new state and federal guidelines that no longer recommend mandatory mask policies. On Wednesday, many students went maskless in classrooms for the first time in two years.

According to data updated on Thursday, Maine schools reported 1,410 cases of COVID-19 over the previous 30 days, compared to 3,178 cases reported a week ago and down from more than 8,600 cases reported in late January. Outbreaks, which are defined as schools with more than 15 percent of the school population absent, declined from five schools to two in the past week. That compares to 35 outbreaks reported Jan. 20.

The new data indicates schools have not seen a resurgence of the virus since students returned from February break, something state health officials and school administrators were monitoring. And the school data comes as other signs point to a continued decline in virus transmission and serious illnesses.

COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped from 131 on Wednesday to 128 on Thursday. That’s down from a peak of 436 hospitalizations on Jan. 13, a 70 percent decrease. There were 28 patients in critical care Thursday, the fewest since Aug. 11, which was before the delta variant took hold in Maine.

Maine reported 289 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday.


The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention cleared a massive backlog of cases last week, and so now, for the first time in months, confirmed cases are reflecting current conditions. However, the official case counts do not include at-home test results.

Despite the signs of improvement, the state also reported four additional COVID-19 deaths.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has reported 231,758 cases of COVID-19, and 2,140 deaths.

On Wednesday, many schools in Maine went mask optional, following the recommendation of the Maine CDC. Portland schools will go mask optional beginning Monday.

“It’s crazy to see everyone’s faces for the first time,” Molly Nason, a junior at Old Orchard Beach High School, said on Wednesday.

Nason, who had transferred from Noble High School to Old Orchard Beach this academic year, said masking made it a little harder to get to know people at her new school. “Without being able to see people’s facial expressions you miss a lot of that human interaction when you first meet,” she said. “It feels good to see everyone’s faces now.”

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