ELLSWORTH — Ten weeks into the school year, city schools appear to be holding their own against COVID-19 closures.
While the schools have not stayed open every single school day, universal masking, vaccinations and pool testing are working in keeping students learning in-person and in school.
Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School has closed for two days so far, and Ellsworth High School for one day. And while hundreds of close contacts have been traced, less than a third were required to fully quarantine.
Maine Department of Education (MDOE) guidelines allow for lesser or no quarantines for schools where a universal mask policy and/or pool testing is in place.
“There is not yet evidence of community transmission within the schools,” Superintendent Dan Higgins said.
Since the first day of school — which dozens of elementary students missed because of a COVID-19 exposure at summer camp shortly before schools opened — the elementary-middle school has canceled school on Oct. 20 and Nov. 9. No remote learning option was offered.
For high school students, Sept. 19 was the single day school was closed, and remote learning was provided.
In all, there have been 72 positive cases identified at the schools, and just over 600 close contacts.
Of the close contacts, 171 staff and students were required to undergo a 10-day quarantine, 228 were quarantined from co-curricular and extracurricular activities but attended school and 211 students and staff had no restrictions, as they were vaccinated and asymptomatic.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 95 percent of Ellsworth students who are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 have done so. But on its website, DHHS acknowledges “the different sources and limitations of the data.” And students ages 5 to 11 only recently became eligible.
Meanwhile, staff vaccination numbers for October came in at a 77 percent rate for EEMS, a 79 percent rate for EHS and an 81 percent rate for Hancock County Technical Center. For central operations, such as bus drivers, there is a 93.3 percent rate. Staff who do not respond to the vaccination survey are counted as not vaccinated, per MDOE guidelines.
Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School will hold a vaccine clinic on Friday, Nov. 19, for 5- to 11-year-olds, who were recently authorized by the Food and Drug Administration to receive the vaccine. Parents must sign consent forms before their children can be administered a vaccine. A clinic for the second dose required will be on Friday, Dec. 10. More information can be viewed at ellsworthschools.org.
No student is required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend city schools.
The elementary-middle school has had three weeks of pool tests, with seven students participating for each pool. The first two pool tests came up with two positive cases. The third had none.
Pool size should be 10 people or fewer, but not less than five, in counties categorized as yellow or red for COVID-19 transmission, per MDOE. Hancock County was at a red, or “very high,” risk level for transmission as of Nov. 16.
Despite this, elementary school Principal April Clifford told the School Board Nov. 9, “There’s no pattern that expresses concern as of yet.”
For the high school, which has run four pool tests, with four, five, five and seven participants, respectively, all have been negative for COVID-19 except the fourth test, which had two positive results.
“We look to that to continue to help us as we move forward,” Higgins said.
The School Board will meet Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in council chambers to decide on safety policies for the winter sports season. This follows a Nov. 9 community and board discussion, where nearly all people who spoke were against athletes wearing masks during play.
The Maine Principals’ Association, the governing body for high school sports, has not issued guidelines concerning COVID-19 for winter athletics.