Scarborough High School is closed for in-person learning until Tuesday, Jan. 18, because of a high number of COVID-19 cases, and schools in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth are also reporting a jump in cases.

The spike is attributed to the omicron variant of the virus as well as holiday season transmissions.

“We have had a sharp spike in COVID cases upon our return from winter break,” Scarborough Superintendent Geoff Bruno said in an email to The Forecaster. “This has been most significant at the high school.”

On the first week of school after the break, Jan. 3-7, Scarborough schools had 205 cases. There were 74 confirmed cases at the high school, with 26 additional cases confirmed on the morning of Jan. 10. From mid-October to mid-November, the district had a total of five cases.

The high school was closed on Jan. 11 and is expected to reopen on Tuesday.

Superintendents in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth are hoping to avoid remote learning in their districts if possible.

“Our case numbers are significantly up,” South Portland Superintendent Tim Matheney said.

His schools had 102 positive test results Jan. 6-10, the majority of which came from home tests that were reported by a parent or staff member. In comparison, South Portland schools had a total of 66 cases between September and mid-November.

Cape Elizabeth schools had 44 cases in the same date range, according to Superintendent Christopher Record. The week prior, Cape schools had 47. From September to mid-November, they had a total of five.

“Every day, we are reviewing whether we should be taking a grade level or building to virtual learning,” Matheney said. “Our attendance isn’t too bad, we’re not looking at moving the entire district.”

The attendance rate for students and teachers since the holiday break has been 87%, he said, “not too far below” what is typically seen during the flu and cold season.

A major challenge for South Portland schools is a lack of healthy substitute teachers.

“We have staff members who are absent because they have the virus themselves, and they’re also absent because they’re taking care of their own children or family members,” he said. “We have to cover our classes with a very small handful of substitute teachers.”

Cape Elizabeth is also considering going partially to remote instruction, largely due to staffing issues.

“We’re monitoring our cases. If the time came, because of high cases or staffing issues, we’d potentially consider some remote options,” Record said. “We’re not there yet.”

Scarborough does not have plans to move any other schools to remote learning.

“We continue to monitor case counts at all schools closely, but have no plans to switch to virtual instruction at any other school at this time,” Bruno said Jan. 12.

Aside from CDC guidelines such as masking and social distancing, pool testing has been one of the strongest tools for schools.

“We have fully implemented pooled testing in all schools, K-12,” wrote Bruno.

Scarborough has nearly 2,000 students and staff members participating in pool testing with a total of 180 pools. Of those 180 pools, 26 reported at least one positive test last week.

Cape Elizabeth has over 1,300 students and staff, which is roughly 80% of their school population, involved in pool testing.

“We started with that in September,” Record said. “We’re thrilled with that. That’s gone really well, it’s been a real highlight.”

South Portland, with roughly 3,500 students and staff, is in the launch phase of pool testing.

“We will have pool testing in full operation next week for pre-K through 6 … we will have some staff pools as well for K through 5 and middle school,” he said.

Record said “schools are trying as hard as we can” to deal with the everchanging COVID-19 situation.

“We’re going to make some mistakes along the way,” he said. “We’re just asking for patience and support.”

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