Maine schools report 2,578 COVID-19 cases, 108 open outbreaks

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Sep. 30—Maine schools reported 2,578 cases of COVID-19 and 108 outbreaks in the last 30 days, representing another significant increase in cases in schools since the start of the year.

The numbers are up from a 30-day tally of 2,080 cases and 72 outbreaks in schools as of last week, according to the Maine Department of Education.

Schools with active outbreaks represent 15 percent of about 710 schools statewide. There are 172,000 students and 47,000 staff in Maine schools. The department does not break the case data down between staff and students.

The number of cases is much higher than experienced last year when schools were partly remote. While most schools are not providing remote learning this year, thousands of students across the state have now had to quarantine at home because of exposures to COVID-19.

Still, officials have consistently said that full in-person learning can continue as long as schools commit to health and safety measures such as universal indoor masking and vaccinations for all who are eligible.

Education Commissioner Pender Makin has said the department is confident in-school learning is safe and can continue. And Gov. Janet Mills has resisted calls for a vaccine mandate for Maine teachers, something done in other states, saying school districts have the tools to keep kids safe and that school staff vaccination rates are climbing.

While Maine is in the midst of an overall surge in COVID cases, the numbers in schools may also be increasing because of growing participation in pooled testing. More more than 400 schools have signed up to participate in through a state program launched last spring. The program gives schools the ability to conduct mass PCR testing of "pools" or groups of students in order to quickly identify and isolate cases and avoid outbreaks and quarantines orders.

Children under the age of 12 are still not eligible for vaccines, although approval is expected as soon as late October. While young people have recently represented a growing share of Maine's overall COVID cases, the numbers of children with serious illness requiring hospitalization remain relatively small.

As of Wednesday there were two children under the age of 18 hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said in a tweet Thursday. Since the start of the pandemic, at least 34 children have been hospitalized, including seven in the last 30 days.

At least nine children have been placed in intensive care units over the course of the pandemic, including at least one in the last 30 days, Shah said.

Some of the largest active outbreaks in schools include 38 cases at Brewer Community School, 39 cases at Hermon High School and 31 cases at St. Brigid School, a private Catholic school in Portland.

An outbreak is defined as three or more epidemiologically linked, confirmed cases among different households reported over a 14-day period. An outbreak investigation is closed when there hasn't been a new case associated with the school for 14 days.

Last year, cases in Maine schools reached a high point in the late spring. At the end of April, the education department reported 968 cases over a 30-day period, or a case rate of 45 per 10,000 staff and students. That increased again slightly in early May, when the case rate hit 46 per 10,000, but still remained far below the case rate of 78 per 10,000 in the general population.

This story will be updated.

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