Officials at St. Michael School in Augusta, a private Catholic school seen Thursday, say a person associated with the school has tested positive for COVID-19. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Two more Kennebec County schools — St. Michael School and Chelsea Elementary School — reported positive COVID-19 cases Thursday.

As a result of the positive case at St. Michael, the private Catholic school switched to remote learning Tuesday, and will continue to have classes for its 180 students remotely until Thursday, Oct. 15. Previously, St. Michael’s had in-person classes for kindergarten through eighth grade.

Chelsea Elementary School, with 301 students and part of Regional School Unit 12, is the third positive case that the school district has seen in the past week. Just on Wednesday, students had resumed in-person classes after switching to remote learning temporarily with news of the positive and probable positive cases that were reported previously.

Previously, two cases were associated with Windsor Elementary School, but Superintendent Howard Tuttle decided to move all Regional School Unit 12 schools to remote learning because of the close community activities that students participate in.

The Chelsea case, however, is not prompting school officials to go back to remote learning again.

“Previously, the situation at Windsor was different because there were some after-school activities that were big enough to involve kids in all of the schools,” he said Thursday of the decision to resume in-person schooling.

Students would be back in school Tuesday, as Friday is a teacher workshop day and Monday is Indigenous People’s Day.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan People go in and out of the building during a an open house on Thursday night at the new Chelsea Elementary School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Tuttle said that the decision was made after speaking with the Maine Center for Disease Control, and there is only “one positive” case. He declined to comment if the case involved a student or staff member.

At St. Michael School, Principal Kevin Cullen alerted the Catholic school community through a letter Tuesday afternoon after the individual and the Maine CDC alerted him about the positive case.

As of Thursday morning, Cullen said that the families that were identified as close contact with the individual had not heard from the CDC, but said that it can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to receive a phone call.

However, those within close contact should have received a call from Cullen.

“I personally called every person that was a close contact, and I made over 60 phone calls” Tuesday, he said. “I contacted everyone to say, ‘This is what you should be expecting from the CDC,’ and people were so nice and kind.”

Cullen declined to comment on whether the individual is a student or a staff member but added that the individual has been quarantining since Oct. 1.

He said that the students have done a “good job of social distancing and mask-wearing,” and that everyone at the school has “done the best that we can.”

Officials at St. Michael School in Augusta, a private Catholic school seen here on Thursday, say a person associated with the school has tested positive for COVID-19. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The choice to switch to remote learning for the next week was made after consulting with the CDC, superintendent and pastor of the school. The decision to return to in-person classes Oct. 15 was recommended by the CDC.

“If there are any additional cases of COVID-19 on our campus moving forward, you will be notified,” the letter from Cullen stated. “Transparency, safety and trust will remain our top priorities.”

Students at the school will use devices that were already handed out, Cullen said and will have four hours of remote class time a day. Each day will still start with a prayer and with the Pledge of Allegiance.

The positive COVID-19 test is the fourth case to appear in a Kennebec County school in the past week, and Kennebec County is still in the “green” on the Maine Department of Education’s color scale for coronavirus safety.  The latest district to turn “yellow” is Oxford County.

Most recently, Gilbert Elementary School in Augusta reported a positive COVID-19 case Wednesday; however, no students or other staff members were reported to be within close contact.

“It would shock me if there was a school in Maine that doesn’t have a case,” Cullen said. “You could get it (COVID-19) anywhere — in a store, and there is so much that we don’t know. And you can only do so much. Our students have adapted so well, though.”

According to the Maine CDC’s coronavirus data, the rate at which children under the age of 20 are contacting COVID-19 from Aug. 1 to Oct. 7 has risen by almost 3%, .

On Aug. 1, the rate of COVID-19 in children under the age of 20 was 9.10%, and the rate on Oct. 7 was 12.06%.

Nick Adams, a data analyst that runs MaineCovid, said the reason for the increase in cases among that age group could be twofold.

“We cannot conclude with the public data is causation,” he said. “For example, are these new cases simply because more children and teens are getting tested (and cases already in the population are being discovered) or did the start of school start an outbreak? Also, are the cases concentrated in a county, city, school district, school, etc. vs spread across the state? The public data just can’t answer these questions.”

Cullen and Tuttle are advising students at St. Michael School and in RSU 12 to watch their symptoms.

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