Public health officials are racing to vaccinate newly eligible schoolchildren in the hopes of stemming a growing number of COVID-19 school outbreaks that are part of Maine’s high case numbers.

Federal regulators approved the Pfizer vaccine for ages 5-11 last Tuesday, and since then hundreds of Maine schoolchildren have gotten their shots, with appointments filling up quickly at some clinics. More clinics are being rolled out this week, including at schools and at health care providers, such as one slated for Saturday at Mercy Hospital’s Fore River campus that will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. To schedule an appointment, go to covid.northernlighthealth.org.

At InterMed, appointments for a pediatric clinic quickly filled up on Saturday, with 450 people, mostly children ages 5-11, getting the Pfizer vaccine.

But school outbreaks have remained high, with the Maine Department of Education reporting on Thursday that 161 school outbreaks generated 3,308 COVID-19 cases – including students and staff – over the past 30 days. Some of the schools reporting the highest numbers include Sanford High School with 43 cases and Winslow Elementary School with 39 cases. The numbers have jumped from 2,916 cases and 125 outbreaks on Oct. 21 to 2,943 cases and 144 outbreaks on Oct. 28 before increasing again last week.

Lewiston Middle School is going fully remote this week after too many employees had fallen ill with COVID-19. Districtwide, there were 95 cases among students and staff as of last week.

Mahoney Middle School in South Portland, which had reported seven cases last week, announced that its entire sixth grade would switch to remote learning this week because too many students were in quarantine from being ill or close contacts.

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But with all school-age children from elementary through high school now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, public health experts hope that will help tamp down cases in schools and cut back on disruptions caused by students missing school and extra-curricular activities like sports and band.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said during the Maine Public radio program “Maine Calling” on Monday that the state is at a “high plateau.”

“This trend we are seeing, this high plateau of cases, hospitalizations and deaths is likely to continue,” Shah said. He said the virus “just tears through” rural parts of the state with low vaccination rates.

The Maine CDC did not release case counts on Monday, but is expected to release data on Tuesday covering cases that occurred in Maine on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Meanwhile, the positivity rate is going in the wrong direction, according to Maine CDC data on Monday. The seven-day average positivity rate for COVID-19 tests climbed to 6.7 percent on Monday, compared to 5.28 percent two weeks ago, or one incubation period. The positivity rate represents the percentage of all tests that are returned positive. A lower rate means that the public health system is catching most cases of the disease, giving tactics like isolation and quarantine a better chance to keep cases low. But higher rates means there are many undetected cases of the virus, leading to uncontrolled spread.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has reported 107,772 cases of COVID-19, and 1,207 deaths. The seven-day average of daily new cases has recently been at about 500, lower than the fall peak of about 600 cases per day in late September and early October.

Maine had the nation’s 19th-highest case count – on a seven-day average – on Monday, at 37.3 cases per 100,000 population, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute. The national average was 22.

On Monday, Maine reported 215 people were hospitalized statewide with COVID-19, including 76 in critical care and 33 on ventilators.


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