A parent of an Ellsworth High School student encourages the local school board to require masks to inhibit the spread of COVID-19 in this Aug. 27, 2021 photo. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

Ellsworth High School has the lowest reported staff vaccination rate of any high school in Hancock, Penobscot or Washington counties at 46.5 percent, but it could increase as more school department employees provide data to administrators.

Superintendent Dan Higgins, who oversees Ellsworth’s school district, said that more than 100 staff members at the city’s two schools haven’t yet submitted their vaccination status to the district. The state’s data counts those who haven’t responded as unvaccinated.

Ellsworth High School, with a little more than 500 students, is the third-largest school in Hancock County, trailing only Ellsworth Elementary Middle School’s 825 students and Mount Desert Island High School’s 535, according to Maine Department of Education data. It also is the only high school in the three counties with fewer than half its staff reporting that they’ve been vaccinated.

Higgins said Friday that the school’s staff inoculation rate could increase as more staff members provide their vaccination status to the department. Among those who have responded to the school system’s survey, 92 percent have said they are vaccinated, Higgins said. This includes staff at the elementary-middle school, which currently is listed by the state as having nearly a 61 percent vaccination rate.

“We’re going to be doing that on a monthly basis,” Higgins said about polling school employees about their vaccination status and then providing that data to the state.

The vaccination rate for young people aged 12 to 18 in Ellsworth’s zip code is at least 95 percent, according to state data released last month. Children below the age of 12 are not yet eligible for any of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Staff vaccination rates at other Hancock County high schools range from 73 percent in Bucksport to 88 percent at Mount Desert Island High School in Bar Harbor. At high schools in Washington County the known staff vaccination rates range from 56 percent at East Grand, a K-12 school in Danforth to 96 percent at Shead High School in Eastport. Vaccination rates for staff members at Calais High School and Narraguagus High School in Harrington have not been publicly released.

In the Bangor area, high school staff vaccination rates range from 76 percent at Old Town to 93.5 percent at Orono, though elsewhere in Penobscot County there are high schools with staff vaccination rates closer to 50 percent.

Several high schools in Maine outside Hancock and Washington counties have had outbreaks since the 2021-22 school year started a few weeks ago. Schools with outbreaks as of Friday include Mt. View High School in Thorndike and, in the Bangor area, Brewer High School, Hampden Academy and Hermon High School. Old Town High School reported 16 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. Mt. View High School and Belfast High School, both in Waldo County, have each reported staff vaccination rates of roughly 30 percent, according to state statistics.

There have been only five positive COVID cases reported at Ellsworth High School in the past 30 days, according to the education department’s data. Those cases do not constitute an outbreak, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

For Maine CDC to label an apparent cluster of cases as an outbreak, there have to be three or more epidemiologically linked almond confirmed cases among different households in a 14-day period.

There is one ongoing COVID-19 school outbreak in Hancock County at the G.H Jewett School in Bucksport, which serves children in pre-K and kindergarten. Nine cases have been counted in the past 30 days at that school, which has a staff vaccination rate of nearly 85 percent and an enrollment of 112 children.

In Washington County, the only outbreak reported at a school in the past 30 days is at East Range II school in Topsfield, a K-8 school with only 24 students that has had 15 cases in that time, according to state data. The staff vaccination rate at that school is nearly 78 percent.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....