by Sarah Craighead Dedmon
On Maine’s 200th birthday, Sunday, March 15, Governor Janet Mills held a press conference to address the spread of COVID-19 in Maine and said she has declared a civil state of emergency to “unlock access to critical federal funds that will support [Maine’s] efforts.”
Mills made four recommendations tonight, beginning with the closure of Maine’s classroom instruction “as soon as is reasonably practical," A later email sent by Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin seconded the governor’s statement, and urged schools to close to students for “an indefinite period of time.”
“Local communities may manage this in different ways in terms of scheduling time and logistical support for students and families to access belongings left at school and to receive remote or distance learning materials,” wrote Makin, who said the state is seeking “flexibility” from the U.S. Department of Education regarding mandatory assessments and accountability measures.
Makin also said that schools do not have to fully close, but should dramatically reduce the number of people in the buildings.
“While we have considered and were prepared to mitigate [the school’s] challenges as much as possible, my staff, including the commissioner...believe keeping large groups of children out of schools right now is appropriate to avoid the spread of COVID-19,” said Mills.
All schools in A.O.S. 96 and Washington Academy announced short closures in the coming week to plan a response. No local schools have yet announced extended closures, as of Sunday evening.
“You know I don’t take this step lightly. I know that thousands of Maine children rely on school meal programs every day to meet basic food needs,” said Mills.
Last week the state received a waiver from the USDA to provide meals for school children outside of the school facility. Locally, it is expected that the Machias and East Machias schools will soon announce meal locations where students can receive food for the duration of the closure.
Mills also requested all hospitals add additional healthcare workers, and encouraged them to cancel all non-essential appointments and surgeries, in order to make room for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
As of Sunday evening, Maine has confirmed seven cases, and another five cases are “presumptive positive,” meaning the test has been performed at a non-state facility and is yet to be confirmed by the state. Until Sunday, all “presumptive positive” state tests were sent to the U.S. CDC for final confirmation but that procedure has changed. Now all positives confirmed by the state Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory (HETL) in Augusta are considered confirmed.
Mills also called for Maine’s nursing homes and assisted living centers to restrict all visitors and limit access by non-essential health care workers, and requested that all events of 50 or more people be postponed until further notice.
“Things are likely to get worse before they get better but they will get better,” said Mills.
“Together we will get through this.”