In this Aug. 31, 2021, file photo, backpacks line a hallway in Hampden's Weatherbee School on the first day of school. Credit: Lia Russell / BDN

State officials say that nearly 1,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Maine schools so far in September.

At a briefing to the legislature’s education committee on Tuesday, Education Commission Pender Makin said Maine is dealing with a “perfect storm” of factors leading to the increased cases — including more testing and more students inside classrooms this year — as the state deals with the surge of the delta variant.

“There hasn’t even been time in the school year for us to hypothesize around whether or not the large number of cases are indicative of in-school spread,” Makin said. “We wouldn’t even have the timeline to predict that at this time. It instead appears that kids are bringing in what’s reflected in the communities surrounding their schools.”

Despite those numbers, Makin says the state is committed to keeping students in school this year, and is recommending districts use tools such as universal masking and pooled testing to limit the number of students who need to quarantine.

“We are not looking at any type of wholesale school shutdowns,” Makin said. “We are working hard with districts to ensure that they have all the information and support they need to strategically and precisely identify the fewest number of individuals possible for quarantine when there is a case or an outbreak.”

Several schools have switched to remote learning temporarily due to outbreaks in recent weeks. As of last Thursday, the DOE had reported 14 active outbreaks at schools in Maine.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.