School Climate & Safety

How One School Avoided a COVID-19 Outbreak and Shutdown

By Eesha Pendharkar & Bangor Daily News (maine) — October 29, 2020 3 min read
covid strategy IMG 05

When Brewer High School discovered its first case of COVID-19 in late September, most of the school remained unaffected. Fewer than 10 people at the 700-student school had to quarantine due to close contact with the person who tested positive. None of those people ultimately showed symptoms or tested positive for the virus. And the high school remained open for in-person instruction.

The outcome of Brewer High’s positive coronavirus case—the only one identified so far this school year at a Bangor-area school—stands in stark contrast to what’s happened at some other Maine schools where COVID-19 has been detected, where dozens of students have had to quarantine due to close contact and schools have switched to fully remote instruction.

In Brewer, school could go on largely as normal because of a combination of factors—ongoing efforts this school year to keep students and staff in smaller groups that have limited interaction with other groups, strict mask-wearing and social-distancing rules, and the limited spread of COVID-19 in Penobscot County compared with other areas of Maine where schools have seen more cases.

“Whether or not a case comes into your school district, that’s just a luck of the draw,” said Brewer Superintendent Gregg Palmer, who wouldn’t say whether a student or staff member tested positive. “But if you’re doing everything you’re supposed to be doing, there’s a real good chance that everyone’s going to be okay.”

When the person who tested positive first notified the school department of the diagnosis, the school nurse contacted the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Palmer said. The superintendent also emailed parents about the case the same day. Through contact tracing, students and staff who had come in contact with the person were identified and required to quarantine for 14 days, and none of those people developed symptoms or tested positive during their quarantine. The school also stepped up its cleaning.

But the actions the school had taken in the weeks before were also important to preventing the virus’ spread.

Brewer, like most other school districts, has strict COVID-19 protocols in place this school year. Students at each school are divided into two cohorts, and each cohort attends school in person two days a week, limiting the number of students who interact with each other.

Students’ movement around the school building is restricted, further limiting contact among different groups of students. Younger students eat meals in their classrooms. High schoolers can use the cafeteria, but they sit 6 feet apart. During school hours, teachers and students wear masks and follow social distancing in classrooms, hallways and even outdoors.

See Also: Keeping COVID-19 Rates Low in Schools: Advice From a Pandemic Expert

“Schools are following all the rules all the time,” Palmer said. “Some people are masked in the community and some aren’t, but in school everybody’s masked all the time.”

Some 121 cases of COVID-19 have been detected in Maine schools in the past month. Over the course of one day this week, the state saw new cases in eight different schools as case numbers statewide have been rising back to numbers not seen since earlier in the pandemic.

Many of the schools that have seen individual cases and outbreaks—in which three or more cases are connected with a school—are in communities where the coronavirus has been actively spreading. Since students returned to in-person instruction this fall, more than a dozen Maine schools have had to temporarily shut down, ask large numbers of students to quarantine or seen outbreaks within the school.

But Brewer’s single COVID-19 case did not result in any of those scenarios. Palmer said the school proved fortunate that not many people had come in close contact with the person who tested positive.

When schools were planning to reopen in August, no one knew if bringing students back would lead to a sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases. So far, however, schools across the country don’t appear to have become the major sources of COVID-19 transmission that many had feared. Elementary schools especially have seen relatively few infections.

“Schools are more safe havens than they are super spreaders,” Palmer said. “That seems to be a national trend, and that was true for us because we had a case, it had minimal impact and it didn’t spread.”

Related Tags:

Copyright (c) 2020, Bangor Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

School Climate & Safety When Toxic Positivity Seeps Into Schools, Here's What Educators Can Do
Papering over legitimate, negative feelings with phrases like "look on the bright side" can be harmful for teachers and students.
6 min read
Image shows the Mr. Yuck emoji with his tongue out in response to bubbles of positive sayings all around him.
Gina Tomko/Education Week + Ingram Publishing/Getty
School Climate & Safety Opinion Teaching's 'New Normal'? There's Nothing Normal About the Constant Threat of Death
As the bizarre becomes ordinary, don't forget what's at stake for America's teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic, writes Justin Minkel.
4 min read
14Minkel IMG
School Climate & Safety Letter to the Editor Invisibility to Inclusivity for LGBTQ Students
To the Editor:
I read with interest “The Essential Traits of a Positive School Climate” (Special Report: “Getting School Climate Right: A Guide for Principals,” Oct. 14, 2020). The EdWeek Research Center survey of principals and teachers provides interesting insight as to why there are still school climate issues for LGBTQ students.
1 min read
School Climate & Safety As Election 2020 Grinds On, Young Voters Stay Hooked
In states like Georgia, the push to empower the youth vote comes to fruition at a time when “every vote counts” is more than just a slogan.
6 min read
Young people celebrate the presidential election results in Atlanta. Early data on the 2020 turnout show a spike in youth voting, with Georgia, which faces a pair of senatorial runoffs, an epicenter of that trend.
Young people celebrate the presidential election results in Atlanta. Early data on the 2020 turnout show a spike in youth voting, with Georgia, which faces a pair of senatorial runoffs, an epicenter of that trend.
Brynn Anderson/AP