Some Midcoast schools report dip in COVID-19 cases

As COVID-19 rates and hospitalizations in Maine remain high, some Midcoast school districts reported cases decreased over the last week compared to the prior week, but health experts warn Mainers aren’t out of the woods yet.

Regional School Unit 1, which serves Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg and Woolwich, reported 93 new cases during the week of Jan. 17, a 34-case dip from the 127 new cases that were reported the week before.

RSU 1 Assistant Superintendent Katie Joseph said the district didn’t enact any new COVID-19 policies that could’ve contributed to the case decrease. The lower cases, however, might be due to “being farther away from the holiday break, people being more careful as they note numbers going up, or people wearing more secure non-cloth masks,” said Joseph.

In Maine School Administrative District 75, which serves Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham, new cases decreased from 130 during the week of Jan. 10 to 100 new cases during the week of Jan. 17.

Though Bath and Topsham-area schools saw slight dips COVID-19 cases, Brunswick School District Superintendent Phil Potenziano said there were 118 new COVID-19 cases reported in the district between Jan. 14-20, a three-case increase from the 115 new COVID-19 cases reported from January 8-13.

Like Brunswick, RSU 5, which serves Freeport, Durham and Pownal, saw a 10-case increase between last week and the week before. During the week of January 17, 122 new COVID-19 cases within the district compared to the 112 cases reported the week of January 10, according to an online notice from Superintendent Becky Foley.

MaineHealth Chief Health Improvement Officer Dr. Dora Mills said MaineHealth is seeing slight decreases and plateauing cases across the state, but it’s too early to tell if Maine reached its peak in cases induced by the Omicron variant, which more transmissible than previous variants.

“We’re not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination,” said Mills. “We’re still swamped with people calling to get tested or get treated for COVID-19 and our hospitals are still seeing record numbers of people hospitalized with COVID-19. It’s hard to tell whether we were seeing the effects of post-holiday gatherings and the impacts those had as well as kids going back to school where they’re most likely to gather.”

Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick had 15 COVID-19 patients as of Monday, according to MaineHealth Spokesperson John Porter. Of those, eight were in the ICU and six were on a ventilator.

Mills said trends from other countries and states have given Maine a sneak peek at what could be in store in the coming weeks.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported new daily cases in Britain crested at 200,000 before plummeting to 140,000 new daily cases. Though people are still getting infected, health experts were buoyed by this, as it mirrored a similar trend in South Africa when the country reached its pandemic peak.

“The crystal ball with COVID-19 is quite murky particularly because of these mutations that cause the variants,” said Mills. “What we know from other countries like South Africa and the United Kingdom and states like New York and New Jersey is the Omicron surge comes on quickly but melts a bit slower. The uphill side of the surge is almost vertical, but the downhill part is more gradual. We don’t want people to lose hope, but it may be a bit of time.”

State health officials went from reporting 860 new cases on Nov. 1, 2021, to 1,266 new cases on Jan. 21, according to the Maine CDC.

Regardless of whether the state has peaked, Mills said COVID-19 cases should lighten by the end of February.

Until Maine’s cases start to decline, Mills said people can protect themselves from getting seriously ill by getting vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 and upgrading their face mask to a medical grade mask or N-95.

Statewide, Maine schools have reported 8,673 COVID-19 cases over the last 30 days, and 30 schools across the state are considered to be under outbreak status, according to the Maine CDC.

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Spokesperson Robert Long said the center can’t speculate on how cases in schools might trend in the coming weeks, but said students and teachers can “limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission by adhering to safety protocols, such as universal masking in public spaces, and encouraging every community member to get vaccinated and boosted when eligible.”

According to state data, between 90-94% of Brunswick and RSU 5 students are vaccinated against COVID-19 whereas RSU 1 students have an 85-89% vaccination rate. The state estimates between 70-74% of MSAD 75 students are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Statewide, nearly 76% of eligible Mainers were considered fully vaccinated as of Monday, according to state data.

Since March 2020, 166,899 Maine residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 1,698 have died as of Monday, according to the Maine CDC.

Nationwide, 70,206,220 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began and 862,494 have died as of Monday, according to the U.S. CDC.

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