Kate Furbish Elementary School in Brunswick closed Dec. 9 after multiple teachers called out sick with respiratory-related illnesses, leaving the school severely understaffed.

Assistant Superintendent Shawn Lambert said teachers who didn’t call out were then deployed to the Brunswick Junior High School to fill in, in hopes of preventing another closure.

He said the “vast majority of absences” have been caused by cases of RSV — respiratory syncytial virus — influenza and COVID-19.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control, only a laboratory test can confirm a case of RSV. Typical symptoms are fever, cough, sneezing and a sore throat. Those infected will experience symptoms four to six days after exposure and are considered contagious for three to eight days. The virus should clear up on its own in one to two weeks, according to the CDC.

In addition to staffing issues, Lambert reported student absences having reached over 15% in the last seven to 10 days at both Kate Furbish and Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary and Brunswick Junior High.

Kate Furbish closed just days after Maine School Administrative District 75 closed Mt. Ararat Middle School and Harpswell Community School on Dec. 6. The Topsham-based middle school had reported 117 cases — 20% of its student body — while the elementary school reported 50 cases — 40% of its student body.


Both schools closed for deep cleaning and reopened the following day.

SAD 75 Superintendent Steve Connolly said over the past week, student absences have continued to fluctuate between 6% and 19%.

Connolly said he also encountered staffing problems in his district when 10 bus drivers called out sick last Friday.

To prevent further spread, Connolly said the administration is encouraging staff and students who feel ill to stay at home and seek medical attention if they experience any symptoms.

“Taking measures like encouraging students and staff to stay home when sick, covering coughs and sneezes, encouraging good hand hygiene, and frequently cleaning high-touch surfaces are all helpful in preventing outbreaks in schools,” said Jackie Farwell, communications director of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

The trend of middle and elementary school outbreaks extends to the Bath school district, Regional School Unit 1, where Superintendent Patrick Manuel said most student absences in his district have occurred at Bath Middle School.


“The district has been in communication with the CDC and our consulting physician,” Manuel said. “Additional staff is being brought in to do extra cleaning and disinfecting during the afternoon and evening hours.”

He noted in an email to The Times Record that Morse High School has also been a concern, “with absentee rates being around 25%.” He said that the school had to close Friday, Dec. 16, “due to a high level of illness resulting in an inability to adequately staff the school.”

Midcoast schools saw this surge of respiratory illnesses just days after students returned from their Thanksgiving holiday break.

“We are hopeful we don’t see the same kind of spike after the December break and other vacations,” Connolly said.

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