Brunswick School Department Physician Alyssa Goodwin addresses the school board at Wednesday’s meeting. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

Brunswick parents appear split on whether students should be required to wear masks during the coming school year due to COVID-19.

The conversation was sparked in part due to concerns surrounding the delta variant, a more contagious strain of COVID-19 that has been attributed to the uptick in cases in Maine and across the nation. On Thursday, the Maine CDC reported 152 new cases of COVID-19.

With some exceptions, the US CDC currently recommends that people who are unvaccinated wear a mask in indoor public places.

The Maine CDC follows the federal CDC guidance, also recommending that people who are fully vaccinated should wear masks in areas of high or substantial community transmission. Cumberland County currently falls under substantial transmission.

“In my opinion I think we should leave it optional,” Brunswick parent Derek Elwell told the school board on Wednesday. “We’re asking children to carry a burden they shouldn’t have to, my son spent time in a classroom fixing his mask instead of enjoying himself.”

Elwell added that he supports vaccines, but he does not see any new evidence to support requiring masks and that he believes health officials have been twisting facts to meet political needs.

Brunswick parent Jake Desjardins said that he had his son taken out of school for the past year due to the restrictions and that the uncertainty of remote and in-person learning was too much.

“The mask really played a big role in our hesitancy with leaving him in school,” Desjardins said to the board. “We should not be mandating again this year, period. I will homeschool again this year if I have to.”

Brunswick parent Maggie Jansson, who also identified herself as a pediatric nurse, spoke in support of mandating universal masking indoors in school, particularly in schools serving children under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

“Brunswick is a community that believes in science and in the recommendation of health professionals,” Jansson said.

Brunswick parent Jason Gould also spoke in strong favor of universal masking in schools, as well as having the department use the pool testing method to detect any presence of COVID-19.

“We as a community do not want to see the downside of a wrong decision by not being cautious enough,” Gould said.

Brunswick parent Kate Kalajainen also approved of masking requirements.

“We have a huge portion of our population in the schools that can’t be vaccinated, and it’s them I worry about,” Kalajainen said to the board. “From what I have heard, all the experts are saying it’s time to mask up again.”

Beginning in March of 2020, Brunswick schools operated through either a remote or hybrid-model in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. In late April of 2021, schools increased in-person learning from two to four-days a week.

Potenziano told the Brunswick School Board in June that the departments pre-COVID schedule will resume for the upcoming year and in-person learning will take place five-days-a-week, which continues to be the case.

“We’re not where we thought we were in June,” said School Physician Alyssa Goodwin to the board. “The American Academy of Pediatrics came out a couple weeks ago with a firm recommendation of full masking indoors for all schools, students regardless of vaccination status.”

Goodwin regarded the delta variant as a “game changer,” stating that the specific concern is the strain appears to have a much higher viral load, is more contagious and that, unlike some prior variants, some evidence shows that vaccinated individuals can have breakthrough infections and spread the virus.

“When I read the headlines, what I read is ‘this has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated,’ however as a pediatrician of course I think of not necessarily just people who are unvaccinated by choice or happenstance but by children who are not yet eligible,” Goodwin added.

A decision about whether to require masks in the Brunswick School Department is expected to be made at Aug. 18 school board meeting, before the first day of school on Aug. 30. Regional School Unit 1 and Regional School Unit 5 will also be making a decision later this month regarding masks in school.

According to Superintendent Phil Potenziano, vaccination rates for students and staff will be forthcoming.

As of Thursday, 71 total cases of COVID-19 have been reported at Brunswick School Department, all of which have recovered.

According to the Maine CDC, 69.19% of Maine residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As of Thursday, the CDC estimates that “95%+” of eligible Brunswick residents are vaccinated.

As of Thursday, 70,996 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in total statewide, alongside 900 deaths. In Cumberland County, 17,661 have been reported, with 205 deaths.

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