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Maine CDC to allow schools that participate in COVID-19 pooled testing to drop 3-foot spacing requirement

The state said 30 percent of a school's population must participate in order to change the three-foot spacing requirement to a "recommendation."

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine schools that participate in the new COVID-19 pooled testing program could be allowed to drop the three-foot spacing requirement if those schools reach a certain amount of students that take part.

The guidance from DHHS, released Monday, said that if 30% of a school's population participates in the pooled testing program, they no longer have to follow the three-foot spacing requirement, which would allow more kids to be in classrooms learning in-person.

Pooled testing involves testing entire classrooms for COVID-19 on a regular basis. If any of those samples in the batch are positive, the class is retested, and anyone who tests positive must quarantine.

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah and Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said during Wednesday's press briefing that this type of frequent testing allows them to catch positive cases more quickly.

Dr. Shah said it also allows students to participate in extra-curricular activities without having to quarantine even if they are a close contact to someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

"If we're testing them on a regular basis, the likelihood that they become infectious and spread it is low because we'll catch it through the testing," said Dr. Shah. "That means that for the student, one of the benefits, one of the incentives to participate in pooled testing, is that they can participate in extracurriculars that they love and not necessarily need to be out in the event that they happen to be a close contact."

Parents need to sign consent forms for kids to participate in the testing.

The Department of Education is hosting a webinar for parents on pooled testing on Thursday night from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. You can register here.

School districts across Maine now in the midst of scheduling and hosting COVID-19 clinics for students that are eligible for the vaccine.

In an email from the Department of Education, a spokesperson wrote, 

At this time, schools that participate in the pooled testing program may reduce distance between students below 3 feet, if they so choose. The Department continues to recommend that three feet be maintained where possible. This, along with the changes in physical distance requirements for adults that are effective immediately, will help address the spacing limitations. We are hopeful that these additional options, paired with widespread vaccination in Maine, will aid all schools in a full return for the 2021-2022 school year.