The state's public health and education agencies have changed their stance on universal masking in schools and childcare facilities.

Since June of 2021, Maine hasn't had an indoor mask requirement of any kind but has operated instead by asking folks to heed the recommendations of the U.S. CDC, which were for people to universally mask in settings like daycares, school facilities and buses.

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Starting next week, however, universal masking will no longer be a statewide recommendation in these settings, but instead, optional.

In a joint statement put out Wednesday by both the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Department of Education, that guidance has been updated now, based on the latest statistics that came out at the end of last month.

"Since the Omicron surge in mid-January, hospitalizations, levels of COVID-19 in wastewater, and other indicators of the prevalence of the virus have sharply declined and remain stable...This change is dependent on continued stability in COVID-19 trends in Maine, including reduced hospitalizations, reduced virus levels in wastewater, and reduced school outbreaks and absenteeism, among other quantitative and qualitative factors. It also comes as Maine and the rest of the nation enters a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, where vaccines, therapeutics, and other interventions highly effective at preventing serious illness and death are widely available."

The Maine CDC and DOE say the new recommendations will go into effect on March 9.

Pender Makin, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, was quoted as saying "The pandemic has created extraordinary challenges for Maine schools, and they have met these challenges with courage, innovation, and forward-thinking. We are heartened by the recent data and this transition toward recovery and normalcy for our schools.”

It will still be up to local school boards to determine, on an individual basis, what, if any, masking requirements will be necessary.

And the Maine CDC is still recommending universal masking in the state's healthcare and long-term living facilities.

Maine has one of the highest vaccination rates in the nation, along with one of the lowest rates of death from Covid-19.

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