LEWISTON — Nearly one of every 10 students in the Lewiston School District is quarantining due to COVID-19 as of Friday.

The number has almost certainly risen after additional students and staff at several schools in the district tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, according to a message sent to the school community by Superintendent Jake Langlais on Monday morning.

The new positives include nine staff members at Lewiston Middle School and one teacher at Connors Elementary School, who, as of Monday morning, was expected to have a large number of student contacts, Langlais wrote. Those who tested positive or were identified as close contacts since Friday are not included in the data, Langlais said Monday, which includes information up until Friday.

In his message, the superintendent shared district COVID-19 data that showed 79 students and 20 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 between Oct. 15 and Nov. 5. In that same time, 850 students and 65 staff members were quarantined because they were identified as close contacts.

Lewiston Middle School had the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the three-week period as of Friday, with 25 total cases. Staff at Lewiston High School and Lewiston Regional Technical Center recorded the second highest number of positive students and staff at 21. Farwell and Geiger elementary schools were tied for third with 15 cases of COVID-19 each.

On Friday, 485 students and 30 staff members were in quarantine. Lewiston Middle School had the highest number of students and staff in quarantine at 166. Geiger Elementary had the second highest number, with 93 students and staff in quarantine.

Lewiston High School and Lewiston Regional Technical Center had the smallest number of quarantined students and staff, with 17.

Students and staff who are vaccinated or participating in the pooled COVID-19 testing program do not have to quarantine if they are a close contact, unless they are symptomatic.

Last week, Langlais said several Lewiston schools were on their “last threads” of staff coverage due to COVID-19 outbreaks and staff absences. He wrote a message to the school community encouraging students and staff to get vaccinated and participate in pooled testing, among other mitigation strategies, to reduce the spread of the virus.

On Friday, half of the students in Lewiston middle school completed school work at home; the rest of the school was moved to remote learning on Monday until at least Wednesday of this week.

From Wednesday to Friday, an estimated 15% of staff at Lewiston Middle School were absent, according to district data. Montello and McMahon elementary schools had the second and third highest rate of absenteeism at 13% and 12% respectively.

Reasons for staff absences were varied. Some were absent because they were positive or quarantining for COVID-19, while others were caring for a young child unable to attend school, Langlais wrote.

He explained that the numbers will continue to change as some students and staff leave quarantine and others enter.

COVID-19 cases in Auburn plateau

The Auburn School District has similarly seen a rise in COVID-19 cases over the past three weeks, but to a lesser extent. Part of this is because it has about 2,000 fewer students than Lewiston, which enrolled 5,185 students in the 2020-21 academic year, according to Maine Department of Education data.

Auburn schools began to see a spike in COVID-19 cases in mid-October and has since plateaued. In total, 100 students and 12 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of school, including 57 students and five staff members who tested positive between Oct. 15 and Nov. 5.

On Oct. 21, the superintendent implemented universal masking in response to an outbreak at Edward Little High School. Previously, only elementary school students and staff were required to wear masks.

Notably, the number of staff who have tested positive in Auburn schools is just a quarter of staff positives in Lewiston. In a Friday conversation, Auburn Superintendent Cornelia Brown said the district has not needed to consider moving students to remote learning as Lewiston has.

“We have had the great support of our staff who are doing everything they possibly can to keep the doors open,” Brown said. “That means they’ve been covering for each other, they’ve been helping kids who are in quarantine, they’ve gone above and beyond what would be expected to do, and it’s working so far.”

She said her comments were not meant to imply that Lewiston staff were not doing to same.

In the past three weeks, Auburn Middle School has recorded the largest number of COVID-19 cases with 18 students testing positive. Fairview Elementary school was second with 11 cases, and East Auburn Community School had the fewest with just one student positive.

Since the start of the year, 833 students and staff have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, leading to 494 school-directed quarantines. Vaccinated individuals in the Auburn School District do not have to quarantine unless they display symptoms; the pooled testing program is scheduled to begin next week, and will likely reduce the number of students and staff who have to quarantine in the future.

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