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The Rural Maine Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of the Betterment Fund.

Skowhegan Area Schools Voluntarily Close Due To COVID-19 Cases

The Maine CDC is investigating an outbreak of 13 cases of COVID-19 at a Skowhegan area charter school. Most of the cases are among staff, and the school’s executive director says the situation underscores how quickly — and almost unknowingly — the virus can spread.

Of the 13 known cases at Community Regional Charter School on Thursday afternoon, four are among students. But the other nine, says Executive Director Travis Works, are among staff.

“We have a couple of adults that work directly with kids. But it tends to be, for all intents and purposes, the administrators. Or administrative assistants,” he says.

Works says administrative staff follow safety protocols. But they’re in a lot of meetings together, and it’s not always possible to maintain a six-foot distance. Masks are worn most of the time, he says, but they’re often pulled off when answering the phone. And sometimes, phones are shared.

“Sometimes you get a parent phone call on your cellphone, and you hand it to another person,” he says. “Something so simple that you might not think of in that moment. That now we’re in retrospect going, ‘Oh, that is a possibility.’“

Community Regional Charter School, which encompasses three buildings across two towns, was first alerted on Sunday of a positive case associated with its preschool program. It closed that building, and over the next couple of days closed all buildings as cases accumulated.

The Maine CDC was just hours into its investigation during a news briefing Thursday when director Nirav Shah announced the outbreak. The agency hasn’t drawn any definitive conclusions on how the virus was transmitted at the charter school, but Shah says that outbreaks can stem from small lapses in safety protocols.

Shah says there’s a phenomenon where people in a workplace may wear face coverings around others — school staff around students, for example, or hospital staff around patients.

“But when the employees are congregating with one another, in a break room, or in a cafeteria, face covering usage may fall off. We saw that in an outbreak at a hospital earlier in the summer,” he says.

The school is reviewing and tightening staff protocols to prepare to reopen on Monday, Oct. 19. Nearby public schools have closed for the remainder of the week as a precautionary measure.

In a letter to parents, MSAD54 Superintendent Jon Moody says there’s crossover between the public and charter schools, and a student at Skowhegan High School has tested positive.