PARIS — Students in Oxford Hills returned to school Monday after the Christmas and New Year’s break to a slightly improved picture for those in quarantine or infected with COVID-19. The district reported on Tuesday morning that 52 students and staff are currently being held out of school for quarantine, with just seven active, confirmed cases.

“The county continues to be designated as ‘yellow,'” said Superintendent Rick Colpitts. “But while the overall incidences of the virus continue to climb, here in Oxford Hills we are experiencing a slight drop.”

The latest surge in cases seem to be tied to the virus entering nursing homes and long-term care facilities after Thanksgiving.

On Monday, Stephens Memorial Hospital posted on its Facebook page that they had treated 27 new cases since the start of 2021 and stand at a current all-time high of 65 patients. It was not clear from the post whether they were all in-patient cases or included any out-patient services.

The Maine Department of Education and Maine Center for Disease Control are expected to reassess the status of all counties next week. Comparatively speaking, Oxford County is seeing a slightly downward trend in new cases but continues to report higher averages according to population.

After several elementary schools were closed at times since November due to either an outbreak, positive cases or not having enough in-person staff available, all of them are currently open. Oxford Hills Middle School and Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School are maintaining hybrid learning, where students are in either Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday attendance pods and all remote on Wednesdays.

Colpitts said he hopes the schools continue to report very low transmission rates happening within.

“Our success depends on our communities,” he said. “Parents, and teachers, have done a tremendous job screening daily for symptoms but it’s inevitable that we will see more cases. We have kept it [COVID] from spreading among students, but we can’t prevent students from exposure to community spread.”

Colpitts added the number of students using bus transportation has recently ticked up, likely a result of some parents returning to more normal work schedules. With the school district remaining in the yellow zone student athletes have not been able to start team practices, although some coaches have been able to hold conditioning activities and individual training sessions.

Maintaining staff through the pandemic is a continuing challenge. Substitute teachers are in demand and in short supply in every district. Some employees are choosing to either retire or resign due to personal health decisions.

“It’s [people leaving] been more than normal,” Colpitts said. “Some are uncomfortable working in-person. Staffing is a daily struggle and I don’t expect it to go away anytime soon.”

As the COVID-19 vaccines are distributed throughout the state, Colpitts is unsure where educators will fall as priorities are set and adjusted. First-responders and medical workers began receiving the vaccine in mid-December; now long-term care providers and nursing home residents are starting to get their vaccinations.

“I have no idea when they will get to schools,” Colpitts said. “I have not received any information about it yet. Our nursing staff will alert us and set the process up when they get word from the CDC.”


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