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
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Seamless Integrations for Engagement in the Classroom
Learn how to seamlessly integrate new technologies into your classroom to support student engagement. 
Content provided by GoGuardian
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.
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Be the Change: Strategies to Make Year-Round Hiring Happen
Learn how to leverage actionable insights to diversify your recruiting efforts and successfully deploy a year-round recruiting plan.
Content provided by Frontline
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.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety 'Swatting' Calls and Lockdowns: Tips for Schools to Ease the Anxiety and Disruption
How school administrators can prepare for lockdowns and restore calm.
4 min read
A male police officer in a dark blue uniform walks between two white police SUVs parked in front of a three-story, red brick school building.
A police officer patrolled Glennwood Elementary School in Decatur, Ga., while the school was on lockdown in 2018.
John Amis/AP
School Climate & Safety 'Swatting' Hoaxes Disrupt Schools Across the Country. What Educators Need to Know
School lockdowns can cause stress to students, teachers, and families, even if threats don't materialize.
8 min read
A bald man and a woman with long brown hair tearfully hug a teen girl who is wearing a pale beighe backpack. Three women look on with concerned expressions.
A family shares a tearful reunion after Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, Texas, went into lockdown because of a false report of a shooting.
Kin Man Hui/The San Antonio Express-News via AP
School Climate & Safety How to Spend $1 Billion in School Safety Funds: Here's What the Feds Recommend
A "Dear Colleague" letter from the Education Department puts a priority on creating inclusive, equitable school environments.
4 min read
The U.S. Department of Education urged schools to use federal funds to support the social, emotional, mental, and physical health needs of students in a "dear colleague" letter sent Sept. 15.
Third grader Alexis Kelliher points to her feelings while visiting a sensory room at Williams Elementary School in Topeka, Kan.
Charlie Riedel/AP
School Climate & Safety A Pair of Retired Military Officers Makes a Case Against Arming Teachers
Their comments come on a call organized by a national teachers' union pushing back against the school safety strategy.
3 min read
A man in a black polo shirt with short sleeves holds up a hand gun in front of a projector screen that shows a diagram of a gun with labeled parts.
Clark Aposhian, president of Utah Shooting Sport Council, holds a pistol during concealed weapons training for 200 Utah teachers, in West Valley City, Utah.
Rick Bowmer/AP