Coronavirus outbreaks at high school and elementary school in Presque Isle

3 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred at a high school and elementary school in Presque Isle, SAD 1 Superintendent Ben Greenlaw said Thursday.

Five people at Zippel Elementary School have tested positive, while four people at Presque Isle High School have done so. One person has tested positive at Presque Isle Middle School, bringing the total number of positive cases in the district to 10. Greenlaw said there were numerous close contacts of these individuals throughout the district.

They marked the first and second COVID-19 outbreaks at a school in Aroostook County, amid a serious escalation of cases in a region largely untouched by the virus in the past.

SAD 1 schools — already closed because of three previously detected COVID-19 cases — will not open to in-person instruction until Jan. 4 because of the number of active coronavirus cases in the district, the potential for spread and the high number of staff members who need to quarantine. 

The closures mean that all extracurricular activities, including basketball, will now be on hiatus until school resumes on Jan. 4. Originally, players were allowed to start conditioning and skills drills on Dec. 14, according to the MPA guidelines.

Greenlaw asked residents to take measures necessary to halt the spread of the virus — including social distancing and wearing face coverings — especially as the December holidays approach. 

“I believe that in-person instruction is the most effective method of instruction and best meets the academic, social, and emotional needs of the students we serve,” Greenlaw said. “Please take the necessary precautions so that we can safely return to in-person instruction.”

The cluster of cases at the schools are the third and fourth such outbreaks in Presque Isle: previous ones have occurred at the Presque Isle Walmart in July and the Presque Isle Rehab and Nursing Center beginning in November. The latter is still ongoing, with nursing home officials announcing on Wednesday, Dec. 9, that two residents had died of the virus. 

Presque Isle has now seen three of Aroostook County’s four COVID-19 outbreaks since the pandemic began: the lone one outside the city was in Houlton, where an outbreak among EMT workers led to at least nine cases.

A COVID-19 outbreak is defined by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention as three or more cases that are epistemologically linked over a 14-day period. 

Greenlaw said SAD 1 officials had contacted students and staff who had tested positive as well as those that are considered close contacts of these positive cases. 

Three of the six school districts in the greater Presque Isle area will now go remote for the remainder of December — SAD 45 (Washburn) officials announced on Dec. 3 that it would not resume in-person instruction until Jan. 4 after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.

And on Wednesday, SAD 42 (Mars Hill) officials said that the district would go remote until after Christmas break after several students may have had contact with someone who had COVID-19.

There were 110 active COVID-19 cases in Aroostook County as of Dec. 9, according to Maine CDC data. On Nov. 9, there were only nine active cases in The County.