In this 2017 photo buses await students at a Maine middle school. Somerset, Waldo and Washington counties are now designated as "yellow" due to the surge in coronavirus cases. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

The state says it’s no longer safe for schools in three Maine counties to open full time after a week of unprecedented numbers of daily new COVID-19 cases.

The Maine Department of Education on Friday changed Somerset and Washington counties’ safety rating to “yellow” this Friday, signaling that it’s not safe for schools to open in person full time. Waldo County remains yellow since the state downgraded its safety rating last week.

The Waldo County outbreak is tied to the Brooks Pentecostal Church, but Somerset and Washington counties’ surge in cases do not seem tied to any single outbreak.


In the past two weeks, the three counties the state classified yellow have had the highest rate of cases per 10,000 residents. Somerset County’s case rate is 10.30, Washington County’s rate is 12.75 and Waldo County’s rate is 17.37.

The state rate for the same period of time is 5 cases per 10,000 residents.

After the state reclassified Waldo County schools last week, all high school sports were canceled for the fall.

Somerset and Washington counties’ schools had retained their “green” designation since the department of education first started issuing its biweekly color-coded safety ratings in September.


Washington County was also one of the Maine counties least affected by the coronavirus since the pandemic hit in March, often going weeks without recording new infections.

But earlier, as the virus spiked in Washington County and statewide, a school in Calais closed for in-person instruction after two students tested positive for COVID-19.

“The surge [is here]. Take action now. For your sake, and for the sake of your family and community, wear a mask and stay apart. This is serious,” Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah said in a Friday morning tweet.