By Shelley Farrington Lincoln News • August 12, 2021
KATAHDIN REGION – As the school year approaches many families are experiencing a feeling of Déjà vu – we’ve been here before.
According to local health officials, while hospitalizations from COVID-19 remain small and are almost always those who are unvaccinated, there has been a recent increase in positive cases caused by the delta variant and it’s causing new anxiety, uncertainty and anger.
All understandable emotions said Millinocket Regional Hospital Infection Preventionist Todd Phillips, RN, BSN, MPH and all the more reason to stay vigilant in using preventive measures we’ve all come to know well – hand washing, social distancing, masking and getting vaccinated.
He said it may feel like Groundhog’s Day and we’re back where we started but in reality we know much more about the virus and have established partnerships that can be used to minimize its effects on our populations.
Phillips said he’s now working with leadership at Millinocket, East Millinocket and Medway Schools to provide support and resources to help in any way he can. It’s help that’s greatly appreciated.
“MRH is great and the local schools are very lucky to have them,” said Medway Superintendent Quenten Clark. “I know of no other hospital that is as helpful to local schools.”
Phillips said it’s a credit to the local school population that a high number of staff have been vaccinated and a number of students have been vaccinated as well. That will go a long way to keeping kids in school and avoiding interruptions.
To further help with that, Phillips said a student and staff Pfizer vaccine clinic has already been scheduled for Sept. 3 at Stearns Junior-Senior High School beginning at 8 a.m. All staff and students age 12 and up are eligible and will be bussed to the school or parents/guardians may opt to bring their own child(ren). The second shot will be given at a Sept. 24 clinic.
Parents need to sign their children up by Aug. 27; Millinocket students can register by calling 723-6400, East Millinocket students at 746-3500 and Medway students at 746-3470.
Meanwhile Maine Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Department of Education (DOE) are continuing to recommend masking indoors at K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status as well as on busses. There is no recommendation for masking for outside play.
Clark, Millinocket Schools Superintendent Josh McNaughton and East Millinocket Schools Superintendent Stacie Smith said their respective boards will be considering school COVID protocols at upcoming board meetings.
Phillips said he is willing to be a resource for any person, business or organization that wants to host a “pop-up” clinic or just have a conversation about vaccinations.
Vaccinations are the way out of this pandemic, Phillips said, and he’s proud to be a part of a 95 percent MRH employee vaccination rate as well as a member of the clinics that have helped vaccinate 75 percent of the Katahdin region. According to numbers provided by school nurses, the overwhelming majority of school employees in the Katahdin region are vaccinated as well.
It is good news to start the school year.
His message to parents who might be hesitant about sending kids back to school is this – continue to be vigilant with the precautions that we know work – practice hand washing, masking and vaccinations. Every act is another layer of protection against the virus.
“As long as we’re willing to pick up where we left off in respect to the virus,” Phillips said, “I believe kids will be safe in schools.”
Phillips explained that the delta variant of the coronavirus emerged out of the outbreak in India. The virus mutated into a strain that is much more transmittable and it makes those unvaccinated sicker faster. Recent studies have indicated it’s as contagious as chicken pox.
Phillips said there is plenty of evidence that vaccinated individuals who do contract the delta variant are not as sick and recover faster.
He said he recently listened to a town hall meeting regarding back to school protocols and the analogy of Swiss cheese was used – each slice of Swiss cheese layered on top of each other, although it has holes, does cover, and protects the other. It’s not perfect but it does provide a protective layer.
“And the vaccine is like a layer of cheddar slapped across the top,” Phillips said.
Phillips said he’s grateful to be working with the schools and providing his services as well as the resources of MRH.