The Bangor School Department is thinking through how it will require that its staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested for the virus weekly following an announcement last week that a new federal vaccination rule would apply to public-sector employees across Maine.
President Joe Biden has directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to write a rule mandating that employers with 100 or more employees require that staff get vaccinated or tested for the coronavirus weekly. Employers who refuse to enforce the rule could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.
The Maine Department of Labor announced Friday that the rule would extend to public-sector employees across Maine, including those in Maine public schools. About 13 percent of staff in the Bangor School Department are unvaccinated, Superintendent James Tager said at a school committee meeting Wednesday.
As Bangor schools aim to continue in-person learning, the new rules could help keep students in the classroom by vaccinating those who have yet to receive the shot and making sure students aren’t exposed to unvaccinated people with the virus.
Many of the logistics are still up in the air.
Asked by school committee member Timothy Surrette how such testing would work, Tager said it had yet to be decided. It could be done through the department’s pool testing program, which is scheduled to begin in October and will involve weekly batch tests for participating students and staff.
While Tager said the district was waiting for specifics from OSHA, he expected the requirement to begin around mid-October. The agency, which is under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Labor, has yet to release the rule or say when it will begin to be enforced.
Staff vaccination rates varied across schools in Bangor as of the end of August, according to data released by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, from a 23.7 unvaccinated rate among staff at Fruit Street School to 5.3 percent at Vine Street School. Bangor High School had an 8.6 percent unvaccinated rate among its staff.
Tager said he supports the effort, noting that employees who still do not want to get the vaccine would have the ability to avoid that requirement with frequent testing.
“I think it’s a very good thing,” Tager said.