SOUTH PORTLAND — As of Dec. 14, there is no news about when schools will receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but the South Portland School District continues to keep communication lines open between staff, students and families.

In total, there have been 31 coronavirus cases in the district, Superintendent Ken Kunin said on Dec. 14. In September, there were no cases, two in October, 13 in November and 16 in December to date.

“Those 31 cases have had close contacts of students and staff of around 300,” Kunin said. “Out of that 300, there may be one case, may be two where it was possible that there was a school-based transmission. As far as we can tell, there is not a school-based transmission student-to-student, and as far as we can tell there’s not a case of school-based transmission staff-to-student, student-to-staff.”

On Dec. 11 the state designated Cumberland County in the green zone of the school COVID-19 case color code, Kunin said. The next evaluation is on Dec. 18.

Gordon Chibroski/ Staff Photographer. Tuesday, October 12, 2010. Exterior of South Portland High School. Gordon Chibroski

The threshold for the yellow zone is a 5 percent positivity rate, Kunin said.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “Should we go to yellow, that doesn’t mean we can’t operate in-person learning if we have the staff and there aren’t broader shutdowns. It does mean that athletics and activities stop at that time because yellow for athletics means red.”

Because school environments are so controlled, schools haven’t seemed like hotbeds for the virus transmission, Kunin said.

“We are in many ways the safest game in town,” he said. “Kids wear masks in school; kids stay six-foot distance; kids are washing their hands; kids and staff stay home if they’re not well. We have nine nurses following up on every absence of a staff member and every absence of a student.”

Every weekend there has been work done about contact tracing, he said.

“We took the approach early on, but we could not depend on anyone other than us to do contact tracing in schools and to be in touch with families and staff in a timely basis,” Kunin said. “We think that’s made a tremendous difference in there not being school-based transmission. Many times people who are contagious are not coming to school.”

There has been increased communication between school nurses and families, where an individual is staying home before receiving a positive COVID-19 test, Kunin said.

Some districts have discussed bringing more students back into schools in the hybrid learning model, particularly at the elementary level, but South Portland elementary schools would not have enough room to maintain the six foot distancing measures, Kunin said.

“If that condition changes, if they say, with the vaccine, with the declining infection rate after the holidays, maybe if we get into late January, early February, if it goes down to three feet, then we’d be able to look at bringing more students in,” he said.

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