Mid Coast Hospital volunteer nurse Katie Huntington administers a COVID-19 to a Bath Middle School student. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

COVID-19 cases among Maine children continue to rise, both in the southern Midcoast and throughout the state. The uptick comes as schools break for Thanksgiving, a time when many students are likely to travel and spend time with family.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Mainers younger than 20 started to trend upward in early September, around the time the academic year began, and haven’t plateaued or decreased since then, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Oct. 1, the Maine CDC reported 18,683 Mainers younger than 20 had tested positive for COVID-19, making up just under 16% of the state’s total cases. By Nov. 23, 26,524 Maine residents under 20 had tested positive for COVID-19, making up nearly 23% of the state’s cumulative cases since March 2020.

Though cases among Maine’s youngest population continue to rise, Maine CDC Spokesperson Robert Long said that trend matches an increase in cases among all Mainers, regardless of age.

“The fact that a COVID-19 vaccine has not been authorized for people younger than 5, and that the Pfizer vaccine was just authorized for individuals between 5 and 11 years old made younger people more susceptible to the Delta variant of the virus, which is far more transmissible than other strains,” Long said Wednesday.

Long said vaccination remains the best way to decrease the number of COVID-19 cases in Maine.

“Children who get their first shot now and their second shot three weeks later, followed by the two weeks required to be fully vaccinated, will be able to return to school after the winter holiday break with far lower risk of getting or transmitting the virus,” said Long.

Nationally, misinformation online continues to be a major factor in perpetuating vaccine hesitancy, according to Chirag Shah, an associate professor at the University of Washington who focuses on information access issues.

The CDC estimates that approximately 7.9% of Cumberland county residents are vaccine-hesitant, the least hesitant county in the state. Franklin, Oxford, Somerset and Piscataquis counties are tied for the highest hesitancy rate in Maine, at 10.5%.

As to whether children’s vaccination rates have been or will be impacted because of the delayed approval and following misinformation, Shah said that it could go both ways.

“This is a double-edged sword, right,” said Shah. “So you could argue that with more time some people kind of got rooted more into the misinformation, but then also you could say that with more time people also saw that, hey, vaccine is actually effective — it’s been working so well on adults.”

While it seems that overall denial about the existence of the COVID-19 virus has decreased, Shah said, scientifically unsupported claims surrounding how to prevent the virus continue to flourish through algorithms on social media platforms like Facebook.

“From the technical side, what we see is a lot of these services, they’re driving based on engagement,” said Shah. “So, the higher the engagement on their platform, the better it is for them and then they’ve seen that things with hatred, fear, conspiracy theory, they generate a lot of engagement compared to other emotions and other kinds of factual things.”

Examples include people who have false beliefs that the vaccine is unsafe and that it is part of a government experiment, Shah said. Unsupported claims about masking and obscure treatments for the virus are also prevalent.

According to reports from Bath-based Regional School Unit 1, 36 students within the district have tested positive since school began in early September. All of the district’s schools have reported at least one COVID-19 case since the beginning of the school year.

Within RSU 1, which serves Bath, Arrowsic, Woolwich and Phippsburg, Bath Middle School has seen 11 cases, the highest number of total cases within the district. Morse High School and Bath Tech, which share a building, have seen eight total cases, six cases have come from Dike Newell School, Fisher Mitchell School and Woolwich Central School have had four cases each. Phippsburg Elementary School has seen just three cases.

Despite multiple COVID-19 cases being reported in schools, RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said mitigation efforts including mandatory masks, social distancing, pooled testing and vaccinations saved the schools from transitioning to remote learning.

“Most of the current cases we are seeing are not due to in-school transmission, but rather community transmission outside of our buildings,” Manuel told The Times Record last week. “We were also encouraged to continue school to ensure students continue to receive the academic, social-emotional, and nutritional support that it provides.”

About 65% of Morse High School Students were vaccinated as of late October, making it the school with the highest vaccination rate in RSU 1, according to Manuel. Bath Tech had a 60% vaccination rate as of late October.

Bath Middle School and Woolwich Central School had 58% and 56% vaccination rates, respectively, in late October, said Manuel.

West Bath School Superintendent and Principal Emily Thompson said the school had a smooth start to the academic year, but saw “a burst of cases the week following Halloween.”

“Since Nov. 9, we have had 12 cases associated with the school,” Thompson said. “There are currently four active cases and eight recovered cases.”

The Wiscasset School Department has reported 29 total COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the academic year, according to online reports from Superintendent Terry Wood. Of those, 11 came from Wiscasset Elementary School, 15 were from Wiscasset Middle High School, as of Wednesday.

Wood did not return multiple requests for comment regarding COVID-19 cases and vaccination rates within Wiscasset schools.

According to the Brunswick School Department COVID-19 Dashboard, 55 cases of the virus have been identified districtwide. Of those, 14 were active as of Wednesday. The Maine CDC estimates that between 65% and 69% of Brunswick School Department students are fully vaccinated.

Earlier this month, Brunswick Superintendent Phil Potenziano told The Times Record that approximately 76% of Brunswick High School students are vaccinated.

In Regional School Unit 5, which serves Freeport, Pownal and Durham, 85 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded so far this year – 29 in September, 17 in October and 35 so far in November. There are 1990 students enrolled in RSU 5.

Durham Community School, which serves Pre-K through grade eight, has had 36 cases, the most of any school in the district. Last week, Mast Landing School in RSU 5 went remote after eight new cases of COVID-19 were reported, although the school has since moved back to in-person learning. The staff vaccination rate at RSU 5 is 95.74% and the Maine CDC estimates that 60% to 65% of eligible students are vaccinated.

Attempts to get COVID-19 data for MSAD 75 were unsuccessful on Tuesday and Wednesday. MSAD 75 serves Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Topsham and Harpswell.

The Maine CDC reported 4,433 COVID-19 cases have come from Maine schools within a 30-day period ending Nov. 15. In that same timeframe, 167 Maine schools have been identified as having a COVID-19 outbreak, meaning three or more cases of COVID-19 from one school have been confirmed through PCR testing within two weeks.

Wiscasset Elementary School, Mount Ararat High School, Lisbon High School, Lisbon Community School, Harpswell Community School and Bowdoinham Community School are all included in the Maine CDC’s list of schools under outbreak status.

As of Nov. 15, 31% of Maine’s total COVID-19 cases have come from people ages 25 and younger, and 20% were from Mainers ages 18 and younger, according to the Maine CDC. Of the people ages 25 and younger who tested positive for COVID-19, 76 have been hospitalized as of Nov. 15, according to the Maine CDC.

Last week, over 100 young RSU 1 students got their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in a clinic at Morse High School in Bath. Several parents said they were relieved to have their child receive their first dose after the FDA declared the Pfizer vaccine to be safe for children ages 5 and older.

From left, Albert, Vivian and Faith Smith of Bath stand outside the vaccine clinic at Morse High School in Bath. Albert and Vivian Smith, both 8, received their COVID-19 vaccinations on Friday, Nov. 19. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

“We’re all happy to have it done,” said Faith Smith of Bath. “It’s not fun, but everyone should do it as a matter of public safety. We’ve taken all our other vaccines, so this is just one more. It’s the right thing to do, I feel, to do our part.”

Albert and Vivian Smith, both 8, agreed they were both nervous and excited to receive the vaccine, but found “the worrying hurt more than the shot.”

Rose Walker, 8, of Bath said she was a little nervous to receive her first shot, but was excited as well because she wanted to “keep everyone safe.”

Blueberry Beeton of Woolwich said she brought her 7-year-old son, Cole, to get vaccinated because “Our pediatrician recommended it and we don’t want him to get sick.”

As of Thursday, 64% of Cumberland County residents between 5 and 19 years old had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to state data. In Sagadahoc County, 52% of 5 to 19-year-olds had at least one dose of the vaccine, and just under 54% of all Lincoln County residents between 5-19 had received at least one vaccine dose, according to state data.

Though COVID-19 cases among young Mainers have risen in recent weeks, cases among 5- to 17-year-olds across the country have dropped from early September to now.

In early September, the CDC reported between 290-350 new weekly COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people were being reported for children ages 5-17. By mid-November, those new weekly cases among children nationwide slid to between 130-180 per 100,000 children ages 5-17.

As of Wednesday, 117,941 Mainers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 1,303 have died since March 2020, according to the Maine CDC.

Cumberland County remains the county with the highest total COVID-19 cases with 24,053 residents testing positive and 250 deaths since the onset of the pandemic. In Sagadahoc County, 2,384 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 14 have died as of Wednesday. Lincoln County held the second-lowest COVID-19 case count, just above Piscataquis County, with 2,112 cases and nine deaths, according to the Maine CDC.

Nationally, according to the CDC, 731 people between the ages of zero and 18 have died from COVID-19. In total, 773,779 have died in the U.S. from COVID-19.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.