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54% of schools in Maine are enrolled in COVID-19 pooled testing

The free program uses nose swabs (PCR tests) and rapid antigen tests to identify and isolate infected people and stop the spread of the virus.

AUGUSTA, Maine — More than 54% of Maine schools are enrolled in a free COVID-19 testing program to help prevent the spread of the virus among some of the state's most vulnerable.

Kids under age 12 are not eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration released a statement Friday acknowledging concerns that parents have about their children in school.

The FDA said clinical trials using the vaccine in kids under 12 are underway, with some still enrolling and others administering doses or following participants. This process is expected to include a follow-up period of at least about two months, to allow for proper safety monitoring following the administration of vaccine doses for at least half of the clinical trial vaccine recipients.

The FDA could not give a specific timeline on when a vaccine would be ready.

"Just like you, we are eager to see our children and grandchildren vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible. We have to let the science and data guide us. The FDA is working around the clock to support the process for making COVID-19 vaccines available for children," wrote the FDA's Acting Commissioner, Janet Woodcock, M.D. and Peter Marks, M.D., PhD., the Director for the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. "We very much hope to have pediatric COVID-19 vaccines available in the coming months."

In the meantime, Maine schools are taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus on their campuses.

Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin said she "expects" schools to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidance for preventing the spread of the virus in schools.

That guidance includes:

As of Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, 384 out of 710 schools (54%) in Maine had enrolled in the pooled testing program, meaning they either have access or will soon have access.

With pooled testing, classrooms of students take nose swabs (PCR tests) once a week and submit those swabs in a batch for testing. If that batch comes back positive, each person is retested using a BiNax Now rapid antigen test. The people who test positive are identified and isolated in order to stop the spread of the virus.

"This has proven in other states and here in Maine to help an organization isolate, identify, and stop the spread as quickly as possible," said DOE Commissioner Pender Makin in an interview on Tuesday.

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah also praised the merits of pooled testing during a press conference on Wednesday, calling the testing a "critical part of school safety infrastructure."

He said so far this school year, they have seen 21 positive schools: 13 from the week of September 6, and eight from previous weeks, out of a total of roughly 450 pools.

"That number is high, and that's concerning, but at the same time, it's also proof positive that pool testing is doing what diagnostic and surveillance testing are designed to do, which is to find cases and intervene upon them, hopefully before they cause outbreaks," said Shah.

Parents can opt-in to having their child participate in pooled testing. Children who do and who wear masks are less likely to need to be quarantined.

  • Any student who is a close contact and IS part of pooled testing can continue to come to school as long as they do not have symptoms of COVID. Students who are part of pooled testing may continue to come to school because they are being tested weekly for COVID. 

  • Anyone who is a close contact of a positive case and is NOT part of pooled testing will need to quarantine for 10 days. A COVID test is recommended 5-7 days from exposure.

    Note: Any student who has symptoms of COVID – regardless if they are part of pooled testing or not – must stay home until symptoms have resolved and/or they have been cleared by their physician.

Maine's Department of Health and Human Services is requiring schools to submit a report of which staff are vaccinated and which are not. The data that is provided, and those who did not report, will be publicly reported beginning September 15. 

In addition, all Maine pre-k thru 12 schools are to report as soon as possible any partial or whole school closings due to COVID-19. This should include any closings (past, present or future) for the 2021-2022 school year. The reporting form can be completed by the superintendent or her/his designee.