In the midst of outbreaks of respiratory-related illnesses, Midcoast schools are urging students to stay home if they are not feeling well after several schools had to close briefly for cleaning or because too many staff were sick.

To quell the surge, which started on the heels of Thanksgiving break, school officials are asking students and parents to practice good hygiene, wash their hands, get vaccinated against influenza and COVID-19, and stay home if they are experiencing symptoms.

Last Friday, Morse High School in Bath closed after too many teachers called out sick with influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19, creating a staffing shortage. To prevent the spread of infection and another closure, Superintendent Patrick Manuel said he has added more cleaning staff to the schools to disinfect high-touch surfaces during afternoon and evening hours throughout the district.

Staffing issues also caused Kate Furbish Elementary in Brunswick to close on Dec. 9.

According to Assistant Superintendent Shawn Lambert, Kate Furbish Elementary, Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary and Brunswick Junior High schools had surpassed 15% in student absences.

That same week, Maine School Administrative District 75 closed Mt. Ararat Middle School and Harpswell Community School on Dec. 6. The Topsham-based middle school had reported 117 cases — 20% of its students — while the elementary school reported 50 cases — 40% of its students.


RSU 1 released a newsletter on Dec. 9 cautioning students and staff to stay at home when sick, giving detailed instructions for quarantine duration based on which illness they contracted. The district suggested those with COVID-19 isolate for five days, then mask for another five when they returned to school. Those with the flu or RSV were advised to stay at home until they had been fever-free for 24 hours without the help of medication.

Both Brunswick and SAD 75 schools sent out newsletters offering similar advice, recommending vaccines and boosters, staying at home when sick, practicing good hygiene, and consulting a doctor if symptoms persisted.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christopher Bowe said Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick has seen a significant jump in all three illnesses in the past week. He said from the end of September to the start of December there were only 120 cases of influenza. In just a week’s time, from Dec. 7-14, another 120 cases were recorded. Bowe said COVID cases have increased by 59% in the past two weeks and 137 children have contracted RSV. He said 20 of those children were transferred to Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland for extended care.

Bowe said there is no treatment for RSV, and children are more susceptible than adults and can require hospitalization.

He said he anticipates another spike in the new year after winter break.

“The best way to stay safe is to not be in a group if you’re feeling poor,” Bowe said. “Certainly, vaccinations against influenza and COVID are critical to prevent those.”

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