Great Salt Bay Community School in Damariscotta has shifted to remote instruction for all students and canceled all extracurricular activities until Monday, Sept. 27, due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
“It is our sincere hope that by having remote instruction and by each of us doing our part in ‘reducing the spread’ we will be able to return to in-person instruction for all students on (Sept. 27),” a letter from Principal Kim Schaff to the school community said on Wednesday, Sept. 15.
The letter explains that GSB learned of two additional individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 and another presumptive positive case. At least one of the cases is a breakthrough case, which occurs in a fully vaccinated individual.
“Unfortunately, we have been seeing breakthrough cases that can and are occurring in school communities,” the letter reads.
AOS 93 Superintendent Craig Jurgensen said by phone on Thursday, Sept. 16, that the decision to switch to remote was based on a few factors: The number of close contacts that had to be notified and told to isolate for 10 days; the range of grades where cases were identified; and staffing challenges.
“It was a combination of factors. Another one of them is we were going to be staff-challenged,” Jurgensen said.
Cases were identified in students in first, fourth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. A total of nine cases have been identified and there is an estimated 75 close contacts that had to be notified.
Jurgensen also said the decisions dealing with COVID-19 cases are more complex this year because some students are vaccinated and some are not.
Children ages 12 and up are eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. No vaccine has yet been approved for those younger than 12.
“It’s a finer decision and a more complex decision than last year,” Jurgensen said.
GSB originally called for remote instruction for students in grades 5-8 for the remainder of the week on Tuesday, Sept. 14, after the school was identified as being in “outbreak status,” as determined by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency defines an outbreak as three or more confirmed cases from different households within 14 days linked in space, such as at school or an event.
A letter sent on Tuesday explains that the definition of a close contact, per the Maine CDC, is expanded during an outbreak to include students who had a common recess or lunch together, whether or not they were within six feet of each other.
Close contacts are also defined as being within six feet of a person for 15 minutes or longer (cumulatively throughout a day), with or without a face covering, or having unprotected physical contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19.
GSB will implement some changes when in-person instruction resumes. Students will have meals served to them at their tables, only two students will sit at a table at lunch, homeroom cohorts will be separated at recess and during outside snack, students will no longer use lockers, and 7th and 8th grade students will see changes to their schedules to reduce movement between classes.
The Sept. 15 letter outlines guidance from Harvard Pilgrim Health on how vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals can help reduce the spread. These suggestions include wearing a face mask, maintaining six feet of distance with others, avoiding large gatherings, washing hands often, and staying home when sick.