Maine School Administrative District 75 closed Mt. Ararat Middle School and Harpswell Community School for deep cleaning on Tuesday following an apparent outbreak of a respiratory illness that sent dozens of kids home sick.

SAD 75 Superintendent Steve Connolly, who is home sick with the virus himself, said 20% of Mt. Ararat Middle School students and 40% of Harpswell Community School students have reported symptoms.

The Topsham-based middle school teaches grades six to eight with 575 students and reported 117 cases. While the elementary school in Harpswell — the district’s smallest school, serving grades K-5 and 122 kids — reported over 50 cases.

The schools were expected to reopen Wednesday.

“All the touched surfaces in the school will receive a hand cleaning with microfiber cloths using a water and bleach solution to kill any of the bacteria that might be on surfaces,” Connolly said.

In addition to hand cleaning, he said the school’s air filtration systems will have a better chance of filtering out the virus while students and staff aren’t in the building. He said anytime the flu or a respiratory illness impacts more than 15% of the student body, the school must be closed and sanitized.


He said students who contracted the virus have complained about tightness in their chests, a cough and sometimes fever — symptoms similar to those seen in respiratory syncytial virus infection, or RSV. Connolly said there is no way for the district to know whether the virus plaguing the schools is RSV without testing each student.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control, only a lab 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 CDC says the virus should clear up on its own in one to two weeks.

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.

Jackie Farwell, communications director of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, echoed Connolly’s advice.

“Maine CDC follows the guidance provided by the U.S. CDC in preventing and handling outbreaks of RSV and similar respiratory viruses like the flu,” Farwell said. “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.”

Just 77 miles north of Topsham, this outbreak was mirrored by Troy Howard Middle School and Capt. Albert Stevens Elementary School in Belfast. The Bangor Daily news reported 15% of staff and students being out sick with cases of RSV; Influenza A; hand, foot and mouth disease; strep; and COVID-19. Administrators are following CDC guidelines and recommending social distancing, frequent hand washing, optional mask wearing, and staying home when sick. The district hasn’t reinstated a mask mandate, but will not rule it out, according to the Bangor Daily News.


Despite the disruption, Connolly said schools would not reinstate a mask mandate like those seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said COVID cases have remained consistently low this year and the new virus is unrelated. He said after three years of living in a pandemic, “it’s time to rebuild our immunity.”

“On Nov. 7, Maine CDC sent a public health advisory notice to medical providers across the state to alert them to the national increase in rates of RSV, influenza and COVID this fall and winter, particularly in children,” Farwell said.

Connolly said the district anticipated an increase in the number of illnesses, whether it be flu or COVID, following the Thanksgiving break after many students traveled and gathered with large groups of family and friends.

“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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