TOPSHAM — A Mt. Ararat High School staff member has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, according to Maine School Administrative District 75 Superintendent Shawn Chabot.

The school, which is using a combination of remote and in-person learning in order to help stem the spread of the virus, remains open.

Chabot notified students and families about the positive test result in a letter Wednesday morning. He said other staff or students may have come into contact with this individual and been exposed to the virus. The high school serves students from Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell and Topsham.

“We are informing you out of an abundance of caution,” Chabot wrote.

Chabot said the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention was notified immediately and will conduct a thorough investigation. Citing efforts to keep the person’s identity confidential, district officials would not say when the staff member learned of the diagnosis, aside from the fact that it was “recent,” or when the staff member informed officials.

Chabot said Wednesday he couldn’t say if the staff member is a teacher, nor would he say how many other students and staff are believed to have had close contact with the individual.

According to Chabot’s letter, the Maine CDC or a school representative will contact students and families directly if they are identified as having been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Chabot said late Wednesday morning that the school had already alerted those families.

Those individuals will be asked to quarantine for 14 days from the time of their last exposure to the person who tested positive for the illness. A negative test result doesn’t mean these individuals don’t have to quarantine, Chabot said.

On Wednesday, no students are in the school because it is designated as a catch-up and cleaning day.

In his letter, Chabot asks students and families to monitor themselves for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, and to call a health care provider if they experience symptoms. He stressed it is important to call a health care facility before showing up there in person.

Symptoms can include fever or chills, loss of taste or smell, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, congestion or runny nose, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, muscle or body aches, diarrhea and headache.

“Stay home if you are sick,” he writes in the letter.

As of noon on Tuesday, Chabot told The Times Record there hadn’t been any known cases of COVID-19 within the school district. Monday, he had informed parents the district would not be transitioning next week to full-time in-person instruction as hoped because the district wouldn’t be able to meet physical distancing requirements in schools required by the Maine Department of Education.

Instead, students will continue attending school two days a week and learning remotely from home the other three days. Many students across the district opted to return to school through remote-only learning.

Wednesday Chabot said the single COVID-19 case won’t trigger a switch to remote-only learning. The school board recently adopted Maine CDC protocols for what to do if there is a positive case of COVID-19 and it is following those procedures.

While typically the schools in MSAD 75 wouldn’t switch to remote-only learning unless there was an outbreak, defined as three cases of COVID-19 within 14 days, the school would work with the Maine CDC to determine what steps to take, according to Mt. Ararat High School Principal Donna Brunette.

The district sends out daily reminders for students and staff to screen themselves for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to school. Brunette said the goal is to catch any cases early.

“They are addressing them and attending to them and not coming to school if they see those symptoms,” Brunette said.

On Sept. 15, Harpswell Coastal Academy, a public charter school with campuses in Harpswell and Brunswick, announced that a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19. As a precaution, the school switched to its full-time online learning through this Friday.

“My sense is that a lot of people thought this could happen as we reopen schools and reopen our economy,” Chabot said. “That’s why we have these protocols in place.”

Mt. Ararat High School teacher Bree Candland voiced concerns in early August about returning to the classroom and worried whether students would follow safety requirements and stay spaced apart and wear their face masks while in the school.

“My heart goes out to the person who is infected,” Candland said Wednesday. “Many of us didn’t feel safe going back to school and it felt inevitable that someone would get sick. I wish our entire school community was on the same page about the reality of this virus.”

Candland said she believes news of a COVID-19 positive person will cause the district to pause and reconsider what is safe for everyone in the school community.

“Today’s announcement makes those of us who already felt anxious to return to school to feel even more vulnerable and afraid to work in a building with hundreds of people sharing indoor space, despite even our best efforts to stay safe,” Candland added.

Mary Rumery, a parent of both a Mt. Ararat sophomore and senior, said it wasn’t a surprise to her that someone at the school tested positive for COVID-19. However, she had hoped it wouldn’t be so soon after school started Sept. 8.

“It’s going to happen,” Rumery said. “I don’t want it to happen. I would not want any of my kids to go through that or anyone else for that matter, but it’s there. It’s everywhere you go.”

It was a personal choice made by her and her children to send them to school in-person, and it was with the understanding that they may be exposed to the coronavirus, Rumery said. She said she trusts that the school is doing everything it is supposed to in order to help stop the spread of the virus.

“I’m just happy that they got right on it,” she said. “They let people know immediately and were right on making sure the school is deep cleaned.”

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