Fourth grader Grace Ryerson and kindergartner Luke Ryerson give a thumbs up last week after receiving COVID-15 vaccines at an SAD 51 clinic. Contributed / SAD 51

Local school superintendents say they are optimistic that the rising number of vaccinated students and pooled testing for COVID-19 will bring fewer cases and fewer disruptions to the school year.

Schools have been holding or have scheduled vaccination clinics for elementary students ages 5-11 since the CDC approved the vaccine for that age group Nov. 2.

More than 500 students signed up for a Cumberland-North Yarmouth clinic on Nov. 17, SAD 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter said.

At Greely High School, 61% of students are vaccinated and at the middle school, 81%. Porter said he believes more than 61% of the high school students have been vaccinated, but haven’t yet turned in their documentation, bringing down the overall percentage. According to the state CDC tracker, 90.5% of Greely High School staff, 81.7% of Greely Middle School staff, 84.6% of Greely Middle School grades 4 and 5 staff and 85.2 % of Mabel I. Wilson staff had been vaccinated as of last month.

Cases in SAD 51 schools doubled over the last month totaling 34 cases so far this school year, Porter said in an interview last week. Because 60% of students are enrolled in pooled testing those cases didn’t have as big of an impact as they would have had last year, he said.

“The percentage of people needing to quarantine after being identified as a close contact has dropped from 36% (of those exposed) to 21% over the last month because more people are getting vaccinated and more people enrolled in pooled testing,” he said.

In pooled testing, rather than test each student’s sample individually, samples are tested together in batches. A negative result clears everyone in the batch. A positive result would require each student in that batch to be individually retested. Many Maine school districts put pooled testing into play this fall for grades K-6 because those students were not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to the Maine Department of Education, over the last 30 days, 167 schools in Maine have been in outbreak status with 4,433 positive cases. From Sept. 1-7, there were 307 positive cases in Maine schools and 263 outbreaks, compared to 1,324 cases and 1,264 outbreaks between Nov. 10 and 16.

Children age 5-11 old make up 39% of COVID cases for people younger than 18, the FDA says. Of those cases in ages 5-11, 8,300 resulted in the children being hospitalized according to the CDC.

Falmouth schools have reported a total of 34 positive cases so far this school year – 25  in the first two weeks of school – “very few” close contacts have had to miss school because of the pooled testing program,  Superintendent Gretchen McNulty said. Eighty-six percent of K-6 students and 99% of staff participate in pooled testing, she said, also crediting masking and the ability to maintain 3 feet of distance in most classrooms for keeping Falmouth’s case number down.

Of Falmouth students 12 and older, 89% have been vaccinated, McNulty said. About 75% to 79% of Falmouth students ages 5-18 had been vaccinated as of Nov. 15, according to the Maine CDC. As of October, 85% of Falmouth’s elementary school staff members had been vaccinated, 96.4% of middle school staff and 95% of high school staff.

Vaccination clinics for students ages 5 to 11 will be held from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Nov. 29-30 and Dec. 20-21. at Falmouth Elementary School.

In Yarmouth, as of Nov. 16, the school district has had a total of 41 COVID-19 cases this year. Last year, the district had a total of 48 cases.

At the high school, 92% of students have been vaccinated. As of last month, the staff at the high school is 97.5% vaccinated; 98.7% at the middle school; 96.5% at the elementary school; and 94.4% at Rowe School.

Vaccine clinics for students ages 5-12 are scheduled for this week at Harrison Middle School, Rowe School and Yarmouth Elementary.

RSU 5 – Freeport, Pownal and Durham – reported 79 cases this school year, surpassing the 67 cases for all of last school year. Twenty-nine cases were identified between August and September, 17 cases in October and 33 cases so far this month. The district has been employing pooled testing.

According to the CDC, 60% to 64% of RSU 5 students are vaccinated. At the high school, 95.74% of high school staff have been vaccinated, as have 96.8% of middle school staff, 96.5% of Mast Landing Elementary School staff and 100% of Morse Street Elementary School staff.

RSU 5 partnered with Mid Coast Hospital for a vaccine clinic on Nov. 17, and the clinic filled up within three hours and vaccinated 75 students, according to Superintendent Becky Foley.

North Yarmouth Academy has only had two students test positive for COVID-19 this school year. NYA does pooled testing for students in kindergarten through post-graduate with a participation rate of 95%, and 100% of faculty and staff participate as well, said Kristi Belesca, director of marketing and communications. 96.2% of their staff are vaccinated.

NYA Health Services Coordinator Ashley Moody said increased travel and social gatherings during the holidays may lead to an uptick in cases at the school.

“On a positive note, however, I think once kids ages 5 to 11 are vaccinated and boosters are received, in addition to hand washing, mask-wearing, and staying home when sick, we should have decreased positivity rates within our community,” Moody said in an email to the Forecaster.

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