This story has been updated.

Local school superintendents say an increase in COVID-19 cases is the result of behavior occurring outside of schools and that transmission within schools is extremely low or nonexistent.

Regional School Unit 14 Superintendent Chris Howell announced Jan. 7 that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention had opened an outbreak investigation at Manchester Elementary School. That is the fourth such investigation at Windham-Raymond schools.

The Maine CDC designates a school as an open outbreak site when three or more positive cases occur among students and staff from different households within a 14-day period. Investigations are closed 14 days after the last positive test result or instance of COVID-19 symptoms, whichever is first.

Manchester Elementary joins Windham High School, Windham Middle School and Windham Primary School in its outbreak status. There are six schools in RSU 14.

An investigation at Windham High School opened in November. COVID investigations at Windham Middle and Windham Primary schools opened last month, according to Howell.

Howell said that by and large, however, the disease isn’t being transmitted on school grounds.

The CDC reported 518 and 81 cumulative cases in Windham and Raymond, respectively, as of Jan. 3, the most recent data available.

The CDC is required to open an investigation any time there are three or more cases of COVID in a school, even though the disease may not have been transmitted or acquired at a school, Howell said.

Also last week, Buxton Center Elementary School was designated an open outbreak site.

School Administrative District 6 Superintendent Paul Penna said these cases have had “minimum impact” on schools.

“99% of behaviors are outside of school,” Penna said last Friday.

“People are not adhering to CDC guidelines and making the decision they’re making, then once they come into the school,” schools have to follow CDC protocol.

Standish, where Bonny Eagle High School is located, has 154 cumulative cases, according to the CDC. Buxton has 166 cases.

Last month, the CDC designated Bonny Eagle High School, Bonny Eagle Middle School and H.B. Emery Jr. Memorial Elementary School as open outbreak sites.

Bonny Eagle schools have not had to go fully remote due to staffing shortages or safety precautions. Windham Middle School was remote on Monday and Windham High School went remote the entire week, the first Windham-Raymond schools to do so.

As of Wednesday afternoon, RSU 14 had 12 active cases and a staggering 299 students or staff currently in quarantine, according to the district’s dashboard.

Gray-New Gloucester and Lake Region schools were forced to shut down schools due to high absenteeism among staff in November and December.

None of School Administrative District 15’s schools have been designated outbreak sites.

SAD 61 Superintendent Al Smith said last Friday that the investigation at Lake Region High School was closed earlier this week, though it is still listed on the DOE’s COVID-19 dashboard as of Jan. 7. The dashboard is updated weekly on Thursdays.

This may be a result of a lag in the CDC and DOE’s data updates, related to what Howell said were staff “stretched so thin before vacation.”

Still, of the 50 open outbreaks listed on the dashboard, eight of them are at schools in the Lakes Region and three SAD 6 schools rank among the highest cumulative cases over the past 30 days in all of Maine. Bonny Eagle High School has nine cases, which is second only to Edward Little High School in Auburn, which has 11.

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