Dear Brewer School Department Families & Staff,
It has been a long journey to this point in time, with this March marking the two-year point since schools felt the full and sudden impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through it all we here in Brewer have worked together in support of our children and students as best we could given the many challenges and changing circumstances.
Now, with the sharp decline in positive cases in our community, and with vaccines available to all students and staff who want to access them, it is time to create an on-ramp to greater normalcy in our school district.
On Monday, March 14, 2022, as long as we continue to see these lower levels of infection, we will advance one more column, from 3.0 to 3.5, on our Brewer Level Options guiding document for return to school which includes being mask optional. A recent change to the Maine Center for Disease Control’s (MCDC) and Maine Department of Education’s (MDOE) Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that defines the rules that schools have followed throughout the pandemic supports this shift to Level 3.5. Specifically, we are no longer required to contact trace when a positive case is discovered even if a person is not masked.
What that means is that we don’t have to quarantine individuals from school if they are a close contact to a positive case, including people choosing not to wear a mask. The only people who will quarantine from school are those who test positive for COVID-19. For anyone who does test positive they will still have to be quarantined for a five-day period and wear a mask for five-days after returning to school.
Therefore, as long as we continue to see these lower levels of infection, we will move to level 3.5 on Monday, March 14, 2022. The Level 3.5 column of our Framework Level Options has further details on where our focus will be as we continue to make progress in returning to give our students the best chance at maximizing their education. This 3.5 level includes being mask optional (with masking still required on the bus as a Federal mandate, until at least March 18) among other shifts. Here are a few reasons why we think these adjustments are reasonable at this point in time.
* Significant drop in cases over the past few weeks
* Omicron is less severe
* We have been forced, because of space, to be without masks in close proximity during lunch all year
* Negative social/emotional impacts of masking
* Negative impacts on learning when masked
* The change in this new SOP eliminates contact tracing when unmasked
The time between now and March 14 should give families who chose to vaccinate a head start on scheduling first or second shots and/or booster shots if they haven’t already done so and allow us to look at data to make sure we aren’t experiencing a surge in cases following the break. If we experience a notable increase in positive cases between now and March 14 then we will respond accordingly based on all we’ve learned about effective mitigation strategies.
For the time being we will continue our universal masking as we look to see if there is a post vacation surge in cases, as has been the case following other school breaks. To that end we will continue to have voluntary pooled testing to help us get a snapshot of infection levels in our schools.
Also, individuals should continue to stay home when they have viral symptoms, including fever or chills, fatigue, sore throat, cough, muscle or body aches, congestion or runny nose, shortness of breath, new loss of taste/smell, nausea, vomiting or difficulty breathing, and/or diarrhea.
Health and safety will continue to be one of our central goals as we also continue to address the effects on our students’ social/emotional wellness and their learning.
Finally, we will take care of our own. Where we have medically fragile people we will create safety plans to support them as we have always done in our school department.
We’ll continue to examine the data on levels of infection and be ready to make any necessary adjustments. Hopefully things go smoothly and we’ll be ready to take the next step toward a return to normalcy. As always, we will update the community as we continue to move forward.
Gregg Palmer, Superintendent of Schools