BAR HARBOR — Nearly all the teachers and other school employees across the Mount Desert Island Regional School System are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
As of Sept. 27, staff vaccination rates at the MDI and Trenton elementary schools and MDI High School were 95 percent or higher, with one exception. The rate at Pemetic Elementary was 83 percent.
The vaccination rates among students ages 12 and up were lower than the staff rates in every school. The rate of fully vaccinated students ranged from 14 percent at Tremont Consolidated School to 81 percent at Mount Desert Elementary. The student vaccination rates at the other schools were between 62 and 75 percent.
Superintendent Marc Gousse noted that the vaccination percentages for both staff and students include only those who were fully vaccinated and not those who may have had only the first of two shots.
“So, I dare say those percentages will continue to go up,” he said.
A high percentage of teachers and staffs across the school district are participating in pooled testing, which is an early warning system for COVID-19. The staff participation rates range from 76 percent at Pemetic Elementary and 78 percent at Conners Emerson to 100 percent at Mount Desert Elementary.
The percentage of students taking part in pooled testing is lower than the staff rates, with student participation ranging from 35 percent at Pemetic Elementary to 92 percent at Mount Desert Elementary.
Participation in pooled testing is strictly voluntary for both staff and students.
In pooled testing, a group of around 10 people, perhaps a first-grade class and their teacher, swirl a Q-Tip in their nostrils once a week. The swabs are sent to a laboratory, and the results usually come back the next day.
“The swabs aren’t tested individually, so if there is a positive result, we don’t know who tested positive,” said Trenton Elementary Principal Crystal DaGraca.
“But then we have everyone in that pool do a Binax rapid test for detecting active infection in people suspected of having COVID-19 in the first seven days of symptoms. That test picks up symptomatic individuals much quicker.
“If you get a Binax positive with one person, then that person starts isolation, and we do contact tracing for all of that person’s close contacts,” DaGraca said.
“Pooled testing is a way to get larger numbers of people tested at one time without tapping out all our resources.”
The Maine Department of Education calls it “an effective tool to identify positive cases without the logistical and financial burden of regular individual testing.”
Support for nurses
Pooled testing and contact tracing means “hours upon hours of phone calls” for school nurses, in addition to their regular duties, Gousse said.
The school system board has approved his request to hire a nurse as soon as possible to provide support for the individual school nurses across the district.
“Everybody is working hard, but our nurses are really incredible,” Gousse said.