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Waldo County schools shift to 'yellow'; RSU 71 investigates two new coronavirus cases

By Kendra Caruso and Fran Gonzalez | Oct 23, 2020

Belfast — Schools in Waldo County moved from a “green” to a “yellow” designation Friday, Oct.  23, while all other counties in Maine remain green, according to the state Department of Education. Regional School Unit 71 Superintendent Mary Alice McLean announced two additional cases of COVID-19 in the district, but gave no further details.

After the recent outbreak at Brooks Pentecostal Church, and subsequent associated cases at Ames Elementary School in Searsmont, Capt. Albert W. Stevens School in Belfast, Mount View Elementary School in Thorndike and Lighthouse Christian Academy, a school affiliated with the church, the county received a higher risk designation from DOE.

The color classification system shows the relative risk of COVID-19 transmission by color and is provided to assist schools as they continue with plans to deliver instruction.

According to DOE, the number of new cases in Waldo County per 10,000 in the last two weeks has climbed to 14.4 and the positivity rate is 1.4%, higher than all other counties in Maine.

Under the “yellow” designation, which indicates an increased level of community risk, schools may consider additional precautions, such as limiting numbers of people in school buildings; suspending extracurricular or co-curricular activities, including competitions between schools; limiting interaction through cohorting; or other measures based on the unique needs of each school community.

Troy Howard Middle School in RSU 71 will move into hybrid learning starting Monday, Oct. 26, McLean said, but district elementary schools will start under hybrid plan Tuesday, Oct. 27, giving parents Monday to pick up remote learning devices and materials. In both cases, students will be divided into two groups, with one group attending in-person classes Monday and Wednesday and the other attending Tuesday and Thursday. All students will have remote classes on Friday.

Ames Elementary will move to hybrid learning Nov. 2. Currently its students are in remote learning because of a positive COVID-19 case in the school.

Belfast Area High School has been operating under the "yellow" status since school started nearly eight weeks ago, according to McLean.

School meals will be available for pickup at each school and parents can get them at their child's school or the closest district school to their house. All RSU 71 sports and extracurricular activities have been suspended until further notice, McLean said. The district is working on an intramural sports plan for students.

Superintendent Charles Brown of Regional School Unit 3 said his district was already operating in a "yellow" model.

"We will continue to monitor the situation to see if we need to move to a 'red-remote only' model based on the impact of the outbreak in our district," he said.

In a letter to students, staff and families Oct. 23, Mount View High School Principal Zack Freeman said the school would be suspending sports for the remainder of the fall season as well as all other in-person extracurricular activities until the county is designated "green" again.

Superintendent Chris Downing of Regional School Unit 20 said Oct. 23 that his district would shift to a hybrid learning model with two cohorts attending in person two days a week and three days remotely.

Previously, he said, the elementary students were attending every day in person, while middle and high school students attended four days, with one day remote.

No extracurricular activities will be taking place next week, he said, and the district will wait to hear DOE’s weekly evaluation to decide how to proceed.

DOE said it is essential that all school districts across the state continue to adhere to home screening before coming to school, physical distancing, the use of face coverings and other PPE, and also washing hands. Sick staff members and students must use home isolation until they meet criteria for returning to school.

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