Wiscasset Elementary School postponed a vaccine clinic for younger students this week after new COVID-19 cases reported Monday forced the school to continue remote learning for the remainder of the week.

The Wiscasset School District reported four individuals in Wiscasset Elementary School, which covers kindergarten through sixth grade, tested positive for COVID-19, according to a letter Superintendent Terry Wood wrote to families on Monday. Wood said the school plans to return to in-person learning on Monday, Nov. 15.

The elementary school initially transitioned to remote learning on Wednesday, Nov. 3 after two people within the school tested positive for COVID-19.

Someone within Wiscasset Middle High School, which teaches grades 7-12, tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, leading the school to transition into remote learning on Wednesday, Nov. 10. In-person class for the school will resume on Monday, Nov. 15, according to a letter from Wood sent to families on Tuesday.

In tandem with the school closures, a vaccination clinic planned for children ages 5-12 in the elementary school on Tuesday was also canceled.

Wood declined to answer questions from The Times Record regarding how many students were scheduled to be vaccinated at the clinic, how many have already been vaccinated, what organization was supposed to run the vaccination clinic, and when the clinic will be rescheduled.

Wood also declined to say how many students are participating in the pooled testing program, and how many students and teachers are in quarantine because they were identified as close contacts of someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

A Wiscasset parent with two students in Wiscasset Elementary School who wished to remain anonymous for her safety said she has grown increasingly frustrated with how the district has handled the COVID-19 pandemic and the canceled vaccine clinic is “the icing on the cake.”

The parent said one of her children has asthma, which “makes the COVID-19 situation even more terrifying.”

“One of my children was jumping up and down saying ‘Mom, they’re going to do this for us, they’re going to have a clinic at the school,’ and we signed up and were ready,” the parent said. “We feel like the rug was pulled out from under us.”

The parent said this is her family’s first year in the district and she’s disappointed by the district’s lack of clear and timely communication, especially about issues regarding the pandemic.

“I felt like I got thrown into a circus,” said the parent. “The screening process before sending kids to school is so lacking. There are no specifics about anything and lends itself to interpretation. I think the reason the school is now having an outbreak is because people have not taken into account the long list of symptoms associated with COVID-19.”

The parent said she contacted the school looking for answers regarding why the vaccine was canceled and where families can go to get their children vaccinated, but her questions were never answered.

The Wiscasset School District has struggled with a trail of COVID-19 cases since school began in September, some of which spurred the school to transition back to distance learning for a few days.

In total, the Wiscasset School District has reported 21 cases so far this academic year, according to the district’s website. Of those, eight have come from Wiscasset Elementary School, 10 have come from Wiscasset Middle High School. Three cases were reported as “individuals in the district,” but no school name was mentioned, according to a Nov. 5 letter from Wood to families.

According to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education, about 81% of Wiscasset Middle High School staff and 74% of Wiscasset Elementary School staff were vaccinated as of September.

As of Tuesday, 3.5% of children ages 5-11 in Lincoln County had received their first dose of the vaccine and nearly 70% of children ages 12-19 were fully vaccinated.

The canceled clinic was scheduled for one week after health officials approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11, a decision that gave many Maine parents a sense of long anticipated relief and progress.

Mid Coast Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Chris Bowe said the hospital opened 2,400 vaccination appointments for children after the announcement, which started filling within hours. Only 400 appointments remained unclaimed as of Tuesday morning, said Bowe.

“There has been a rush of people, similar to what we saw when age eligibility dropped to 12,” said Bowe. “There are a lot of parents excited to get their kids immunized and protected, and that’s been very encouraging for our team. Some kids came in nervous for shots, as you’d expect, but there are also kids who are absolutely thrilled to get it.”

Though it’s rare for children to need to be hospitalized from COVID-19, Bowe said it’s still important for them to get immunized to protect both themselves and their community. This is, in part, because children can still have serious symptoms of COVID-19 and unknowingly transmit the disease as well.

“The more we vaccinate our community, the more COVID-19 doesn’t have a place to continue to spread,” said Bowe. “The way to get to the other side of this pandemic is first through vaccination. If we can get enough people vaccinated so that the person who’s infected isn’t able to infect someone else because they’ve been vaccinated, that’s such a win.”

In addition to protecting themselves and others, Bowe said protecting children from COVID-19 will only benefit their mental wellbeing and bring a new sense of relief and freedom to their family.

“Children understand this pandemic at different levels based on their age and they’ve experienced this with us,” he said. “Wearing masks and not having play dates or sleepovers, that’s a sacrifice they’ve been through. If we can get to a spot where we can say ‘You have protection against this infection and so do your friends, so maybe it’s time for a sleepover,’ that is such a positive step forward for children.”

Mid Coast Hospital is offering a children’s vaccination clinic from November 8–17 at Coffin School in Brunswick. Parents can register for appointments via the hospital’s website. Morse High School in Bath will also host a Mid Coast Hospital vaccine clinic for children on Nov. 19 from 7:45-11 a.m.

Though Wiscasset has only seen 319 COVID-19 cases as of Nov. 7, 1,929 people within Lincoln County have tested positive and seven have died since the pandemic reached Maine in March 2020, according to the Maine CDC.

Statewide, 108,710 Mainers have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday and 1,215 have died, according to the Maine CDC. Of the state’s total cases, 21.6%, or 23,523, are people under 20 years old.

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