In every K-12 school across Maine, six mandatory health and safety requirements from the Maine Department of Education and Center for Disease Control & Prevention is a given.

The Morning Sentinel polled some health experts throughout the state for their thoughts on whether there could be additional health and safety practices to consider, in addition to face coverings, symptom screening at home before school, hand hygiene, usage of personal protective equipment, and staying home when sick and until fully recovered.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, senior vice president of community health at MaineHealth and a former director of Maine CDC, suggested using “stable” cohorts for students. Students would take classes together in groups, eat together and stay in their cohorts at all times.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills Courtesy photo

Mills referenced successful cohorts of this nature at summer camps, colleges, nursing homes, long-term health care settings and more. The cohorts Mills is thinking of must be strict, including keeping them together during meal times. It’s also helpful for teachers to travel from room to room, rather than the students.

“And then if there’s any outbreaks, it doesn’t close the entire school down,” Mills said. “You just have to quarantine kids in that cohort.

Dr. Steve Diaz, MaineGeneral Health’s chief medical officer. Courtesy photo

Steve Diaz, chief medical officer at Augusta-based MaineGeneral Health, considered the question from two angles. He first agreed with Mills about cohorting, but then spoke on a hypothetical if money was no problem.

Diaz, if it were possible, would give schools “unlimited resources” to update HVAC systems. Many school buildings are old and possess outdated or inefficient ventilation systems. Working in a hospital where ventilation is not a problem is rarely thought about as a luxury for many healthcare professionals.

“It would be great if all the schools were built like that as well,” Diaz said. “It would make the inside safer, temperature management much easier.”

Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a pediatric specialist with MaineHealth and vice president of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Courtesy photo

Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a pediatric specialist with MaineHealth and vice president of the Maine Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics, agreed with cohorting.

“For me, the unsung hero of public health intervention is the cohorting,” Blaisdell said.

Dr. James Jarvis, medical specialist and incident command leader at Northern Light Health. Courtesy photo

Dr. James Jarvis, command medical specialist at Northern Light Health, said an additional guideline could be to “put education first.”

“And what I mean by that is getting our kids back into some form of regular learning is necessary for their growth and well-being,” Jarvis said. “While we look to safely open other parts of our economy and communities, we must remember some of the most vulnerable are our children. They need structure and support and a basic education. Many rely on schools for meals, healthcare and social services.”


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