Wiscasset explores COVID-19 testing offer for schools

Wed, 05/12/2021 - 8:30am

    Is regularly pool-testing students and adults for COVID–19 doable, and could it help prevent spread? Wiscasset School Committee listened and asked questions Tuesday night, May 11 as staff nurse Marilyn Sprague explained the program she said the state is encouraging. After hearing Sprague’s answers and Wiscasset Middle High School Assistant Principal-Athletic Director Warren Cossette’s support for the idea, the committee gave Sprague the go-ahead.

    According to the discussion, if the department went through with the pool testing, it would likely start next fall, the department would first be charged $185 for a waiver involving the lab testing; classes or other pools of students and adults would, unless they opt out, take nasal samples with swabs that would then go to Boston for testing, the department would have results within 24 hours, and any positives would mean more testing to find who it was. Pool testing aims to detect a case before someone is contagious, Sprague explained.

    “They’re really pushing for us to do it ... They’re doing a lot of education on it ... Zoom meetings, one or two a week, trying to get us all interested,” Sprague said. She said the program would be “some added work,” but it is a tool, and she felt it was the committee’s call to make.

    Officials said anyone can opt out of the testing; and the department can pull out of the program. “We’re not committed,” Sprague said.

    What is the benefit, committee member Indriani Demers asked in the meeting in Wiscasset Middle High School’s library and on Zoom. “The benefit is that we can hopefully identify students or adults who are carrying the virus, but it has not reached where they are contagious, and it hasn’t reached the point where the person is sick,” Sprague said.

    Cossette told the committee, “If other schools have it and we don’t, and the opportunity is there to even save one person, and we didn’t take it, for ($185), I think that we would be remiss because we can always say (later), ‘You know what, ‘It’s not for us.’ And everyone can say they don’t want to. Then all liability is resolved. And it’s not just liability from legal action ... Our responsibility is to try and keep everybody safe. For ($185), pretty cheap.”

    Sprague had other COVID-19 news. She said the state’s change from automatically quarantining a whole class or more when a student has tested positive, to instead those within six feet of the student, proved “fantastic” with an instance after vacation. She said fewer than 20 students had to quarantine, compared to 80-plus last time. “It cut way back on what we had to do in keeping kids in school safely. So that was a big plus for us.”

    LincolnHealth will have clinics for 12 to 18 year olds May 21 and June 11 using the Pfizer vaccine, Sprague said. Sixty students were signed up and she expects  more; seniors will have graduated before the second dose, but Wiscasset Family Medicine has offered to vaccinate students 18 and over with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine instead, Sprague said. She said most seniors were already vaccinated, but the couple who are not will be, thanks to WFM.

    Wiscasset Elementary School’s next principal, Kathleen Pastore, joined the meeting via Zoom to thank the committee for its recent “vote of trust” in hiring her, and to introduce herself to the community a day after she visited the school. She has driven through Wiscasset for years en route to a home in New Harbor, and moving to Midcoast Maine has become a dream of hers, Pastore, a central Massachusetts educator for 30-plus years, said.

    “I was thrilled that this opportunity arose ... and I am very excited to jump in with both feet come July 1.”

    WMHS math teacher Marija Randall and district gifted and talented teacher Rachel Sugarman are resigning; educational technicians Nancy Wyman, Cheryl Campbell and Pamela Freeman are retiring.