On Monday, the Maine Center for Disease Control reported that Oxford County has the second highest case rate of COVID infections in Maine. Supplied graphic

PARIS — It is hard to imagine a time when the holiday break was more needed or welcome than it was this school year. It is also hard to image a more chaotic way to return to school with the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 sweeping through Maine.

An initial glance at Oxford Hills School District’s quarantine report looks promising. All schools were able to open with in-person learning this week. As of noon on Tuesday, the number of students and staff in quarantine stood at 89, substantially less than three weeks ago when 228 were reported in isolation. There are currently 32 cases of students and staff infected with COVID.

But appearances can be deceiving. SAD 17’s nursing staff and administrators are scrambling to update quarantine numbers by school and restart pooled testing. It will take the entire week to establish a new baseline for the tests, which are done in different schools each day.

Omicron had not yet been confirmed in any Oxford County COVID cases when school was dismissed on Dec. 21, but Maine public health officials predicted that by the start of 2022 it would be the dominant strain throughout the state.

This week Oxford County trails only Androscoggin County in reported illnesses. Currently the case rate is 1,343 per 10,000 people.

“Our numbers will fluctuate over the next 24 hours,” acknowledged Superintendent Dr. Monica Henson Tuesday morning. “We are processing calls from parents and staff. I expect the tail is going to get pulled and we will see a sharp increase. It will take a few days to determine.”


One challenge for school districts is incorporating the national Center for Disease Control’s guidance on quarantine periods, which last month was 10 days for close contacts, but was shortened to five under some circumstances.

“The Maine Department of Education did a briefing yesterday,” Henson said. “Schools are to follow the national CDC’s guidance for prevention (of COVID), but to rely on the DOE and Maine CDC’s guidance for response to it.”

Changes include that COVID outbreaks in schools will now be determined when more than 15% of a school’s population is absent, rather than two or more cases. And the Maine CDC will no longer consider exposure to COVID-19 in an outdoor setting or on a school bus, where the federal government requires masks be worn, as a “close contact.”

Henson told the Advertiser Democrat that as of Tuesday omicron had not affected the district’s winter sports schedule. Pooled testing for student athletes enrolled in the program continued during the Christmas break. Henson said no games have had to be canceled because of students being infected by or exposed to COVID.

“We have come back with a heightened awareness about omicron,” she said. “I have lots of concern about our district in the near future because of it.”

Henson encourages parents to seek vaccination and boosters for their children, according to edibility, and stressed the benefits of enrolling students in pooled testing.

Information about vaccinations can be found on Western Maine Health’s website, https://www.mainehealth.org/Coronavirus-COVID-19/Vaccination-Appointment-Guide.

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