Dear Brewer Schools’ Families & Staff,
Last August 12, 2021 the Maine Center for Disease Control (MCDC) issued a new revision of their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) which is the document that provides critical guidance and sets up the playbook for school systems to follow during the pandemic. The first SOP was issued on September 30, 2020, and there had been five iterations of this state issued document through the August revision that we had been using to guide our planning for the 2021-2022 school year and as new cases of the Delta variant surged from mid-August to today.
And now it has changed again with the sixth version of the SOP being issued Monday, September 13, 2021. Unannounced, this new SOP appeared on State of Maine websites without comment. I became aware of it a few days later and have been studying it the last 48 hours.
Monday was also the very day I posted the guidance around the more restrictive quarantining rules we are expected to use when a school is labeled as being in an outbreak, which had recently happened with Brewer High School (BHS). I wanted to get you that information since we also expected that Brewer Community School (BCS) would also be entering outbreak status.
As expected, that designation was in fact given yesterday, September 15, 2021 with eight more positive cases affecting people associated with the Community School. BHS has had three more positive cases affecting people there so far this week. All contact tracing has happened for both buildings. Cases are being contracted out in the community, and we know that with all our students back that we can have instances when the virus could be passed between people at school. Having said that, our buildings remain safe and our layered mitigation strategies are strong and very successful when comparing our rates of the virus against society in general.
Staff, students, and our families are doing a great job in these challenging times. The key right now is to communicate and focus on public health as one team. In fact I would argue that we keep that issue -- public health -- on the front burner, even beyond questions surrounding quarantining.
So what changed with this new SOP? For this discussion and moment in time, the key charges are in fact around who and when to quarantine. I have outlined the new rules in the box below. You can also refer to the chart on page 7 of the current SOP.
| QUARANTINING RULES FOR WHEN A SCHOOL IS IN OUTBREAK STATUS|
1. If a person is vaccinated, or they are unvaccinated but within 90 days of having the virus themselves (and are no longer infectious), then no matter where a person was exposed to the virus as a close contact they are not required to quarantine unless they become symptomatic.
2. If a person is participating in pooled testing, is unvaccinated and is not within 90 days of being positive themselves, and they are exposed to the virus as a close contact in a classroom or on the bus, at lunch, or while in other non-classroom areas they are not required to be in quarantine from school or from any school activities and events unless they become symptomatic.
3. If a person is exposed to the virus outside of school as a close contact and is unvaccinated, and they are not within 90 days of being positive themselves, even if they participate in school-based pool testing, they must quarantine.
4. If a person is unvaccinated, not within 90 days of being positive themselves, and is not participating in pooled testing but the school has and enforces universal masking, and the person is exposed to the virus in a classroom but is 3 to 6 feet distanced from the positive, they are not required to quarantine from classes or regular school-day events. They are, however, required to quarantine from school activities outside of the regular school day.
5. If a person is unvaccinated, not within 90 days of being positive themselves, and is not participating in pooled testing but the school has and enforces universal masking and the person is exposed to the virus on the bus, in the lunch room while unmasked, or other non-classroom areas under these same conditions, they must quarantine.
According to the MCDC outbreak status is preliminarily closed 14-days after the last positive test or symptom onset, whichever is later, and officially closed 28-days after the last positive test or symptom onset date, whichever is later.
One unintended message in all this could be that certain measures could serve as a disincentive for taking other precautions. One example might be that if a person is vaccinated then there is no incentive, when only considering the issue of quarantining, to participate in pooled testing. After all, one might reason, the vaccinated person doesn't need the protections against quarantine that pooled testing provides, therefore the small risk of being found to be positive with the virus, if pool testing, could land the person in quarantine.
However, from a public health vantage point because a vaccinated person could carry the virus it contributes to the overall health of the community to still pool test.
Every family will make the decisions that are best for them, but it's worth considering community and public health benefits that layered mitigation strategies offer.
This is keeping with our keys to safety in Brewer Schools, 2021-2022.
I hope this is the last MCDC adjustment that we see for a while, but as has been the case if there is more news that affects our work here in the school district I will pass it along with the clearest explanation I can provide.
Gregg Palmer, Superintendent of School