Brunswick School Department Superintendent Phil Potenziano said that a decision has not yet been made about whether the district will follow new state recommendations regarding mask mandates.

A school board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 4 to gather input from staff, parents and students, Potenziano said.

The first day of school in Brunswick is Aug. 30 ,and Potenziano said the department is prepared to go back five days-a-week, in person for PreK-12. Potenziano also said that the school is in conversation with Mid Coast Hospital about setting up a regional vaccine clinic at the Coffin School.

As for Regional School Unit #5, which serves Freeport, Pownal and Durham, School Board Chairperson Michelle Ritcheson said that nothing at this point is set in stone, but the intention is to also be open five days-a-week, in-person.

Ritcheson said that a decision about masking requirements is expected to be made in early August. RSU 5 also starts school on Aug. 30.

On Thursday, the Maine CDC reported 120 new cases of COVID-19, the highest daily total since May.

Following federal guidelines, Gov. Janet Mills announced Wednesday new state recommendations for people to resume masking indoors in high or substantial COVID-19 transmission areas regardless of vaccination status, the Portland Press Herald reported.

As of Thursday, Waldo County was the only county categorized under substantial transmission.

Gov. Mills also said that the state will adopt guidance for all staff, teachers and students in K-12 schools to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, the Press Herald reported.

According to the Maine CDC, 68.32% of Maine residents have received a final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Maine CDC estimates that 99% of eligible Brunswick, Freeport and Topsham residents and 92% of eligible Bath residents have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Maine CDC Communications Director Robert Long, the margin-of-error calculations for these figures require updated U.S. Census data, which the CDC is awaiting.

Long said that population changes since 2018 are not included, and the number of people vaccinated in each zip code includes seasonal residents, both of which are factors that could impact the reported rate.

As of last Friday, Mid Coast Hospital had zero hospitalized patients with COVID-19. According to MaineHealth Chief Health Improvement Officer Dr. Dora Mills, that number has fluctuated between about one and three over the past week.

Hospitalization systemwide for MaineHealth has also increased, she said, but more significantly, facilities are seeing a large increase of COVID-19 cases in outpatient settings, such as doctors’ offices and the emergency room. Most, but not all, are unvaccinated, Mills said, and the uptick does appear to be correlated to the delta variant.

“This pandemic is not over, it’s going to wax and wane, particularly with these variants until the rest of the world is vaccinated” Mills said. “The vaccine is the major layer of protection, and then the other three — distancing, masking and ventilation — we can dial up and down depending on the situation.”

While Mills said that she believes the chances of a major surge comparable to January or April are smaller, the pandemic has proven to be unpredictable.

Even the small uptick has begun to overwhelm hospitals, she said, due to a large backlog of other healthcare needs and a major workforce shortage that has resulted in about a 10% vacancy rate in MaineHealth.

“People who needed hip surgery a year ago are getting it now that they’re vaccinated,” Mills said. “The number of employees that it takes to take care of a COVID patient is much higher than the vast majority of other patients in the hospital, so even a small uptick in COVID patients can stress a hospital.”

At this time, MaineHealth does not mandate vaccination among employees. Mills said that there are on-going discussions, both locally and nationally, about vaccine mandates.

MaineHealth is continuing to work in a handful of different community settings to encourage vaccination, Mills said, with some examples being clinics put on at breweries, where fisherman gather and other workplaces in Maine.

Brunswick Downtown Association Executive Director Deborah King said she does not think the uptick in virus cases will have a significant impact on local businesses, unless Mills’ recommendations expand to Cumberland County.

“If new mandates are imposed, the businesses I’m sure will comply with the new restrictions, as will the general public,” King wrote in an email.

King said businesses are doing as well as can be expected, noting that the statewide labor shortage has proven to be a major hurdle.

Main Street Bath Executive Director Amanda Stanley said that, after going through the first year of the pandemic, she is confident that businesses will be able to adapt should another set of restrictions be imposed.

“We can pull on our experience from what we’ve learned over 2020 into a little bit into 2021,” Stanley said, mentioning the use of online resources, takeaway and curbside service.

As of Thursday, 70,261 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in total statewide, alongside 899 deaths. In Cumberland County, 17,486 have been reported, with 205 deaths.

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