Originally published in Castine Patriot, November 18, 2021 and Island Ad-Vantages, November 18, 2021 and The Weekly Packet, November 18, 2021
As pandemic surges, younger kids get vaccinated
Some people decide to just live with the pandemic
by Jeffrey B. Roth and Leslie Landrigan
The race to out-vaccinate the COVID-19 pandemic has sped up locally as more people get vaccinated, including young children.
But at the same time, hospitalizations for the disease are setting records in Maine. The number of new cases statewide also remains high, with 952 reported on November 15 by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Despite what health officials call the “high plateau” of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, some people are thinking about resuming normal activities. The Healthy Island Project, for example, may restart its Salt Air Senior gatherings in December or January after a 20-month hiatus.
“We’re having to learn to live with it,” said Rene Colson Hudson, HIP’s executive director. “We’re in a new phase where we have to find ways we can live with it among the vaccinated.”
Schools cope with COVID-19
Local schools have learned to live—and teach—with the pandemic.
The experience of last year’s school closure convinced school officials that in-class learning is much better than remote for most students. But there had been no approved COVID-19 vaccine for children up to the age of 11.
Each positive COVID-19 case has had a ripple effect throughout a school, according to Reg Ruhlin, School Union 93 superintendent, in a phone interview. Because of that ripple effect, more than 100 Maine schools have had to close, according to Maine Department of Education.
Then on November 2, the U.S. CDC approved a reduced-dose Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 years old. Ten days later, Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital ran a clinic in the Blue Hill Consolidated School gym for 120 younger children. The next day, dozens more children got vaccinated in the Deer Isle-Stonington High School gym.
“The vaccine will be a game changer because it will allow the younger children in school to stay in school if they’re close contacts,” Ruhlen said. “Once we get past Christmas vacation, and students are fully vaccinated, we’ll wind up being able to keep more kids in person in school.”
George Stevens Academy is managing to stay open despite the four students who tested positive between November 10 and 16, according to Head of School Tim Seeley.
“Because of our mitigation measures, and the high percentage of students and adults vaccinated, these have not caused any disruption to classes,” Seeley said in an email.
On November 15, more than 100 people got flu and booster shots at a pop-up clinic at the Island Community Center in Stonington.
People who are vaccinated can still get the virus, according to the CDC, but they are less likely to get seriously ill, which is what concerns public health officials. Since the pandemic’s outset, Maine CDC has kept a close watch on hospitalizations because of fears that virus patients will overwhelm the state’s health care system.
Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, has said that the unvaccinated make up two out of every three hospitalized COVID-19 cases.
The recent surge has caused hospitalizations for the disease to set records. On November 16, hospitalizations reached 275, beating the previous day’s record of 262, according to Maine CDC.
Of the 275 COVID-19 patients on November 16, 74 were in critical care, leaving only 45 available critical care beds in the state.
Living with it
The latest surge in new COVID-19 cases presents a dilemma for people emotionally exhausted by the pandemic. Some are risking indoor social gatherings—masked, with other vaccinated people. Stonington’s Opera House, for example, is restarting indoor programming, but only for people who can show they’ve been vaccinated.
Hudson is tentatively planning a gathering of seniors around Christmas or maybe January, the first since March 2020. She’s working on a protocol to keep people as safe as possible, she said.
“Our older islanders are feeling so much social isolation,” Hudson said in a HIP breakfast conference on Zoom. “They’ve gotten their boosters,” she said. “They’re willing to take the risk.”