In this Sept. 21, 2021, file photo, school nurse Missy Gendron unpacks pooled COVID-19 testing materials at Lewiston High School. Credit: Andree Kehn / Sun Journal via AP

Bangor-area schools have begun to see a rise in COVID-19 cases in the week since students returned from their winter break. And school leaders and state officials expect numbers over the next week to keep increasing as the return of regular virus testing picks up new cases.

The Maine Department of Education on Thursday reported that schools had detected 4,946 COVID-19 cases among staff and students over the past 30 days. That represented a 20 percent decline from the department’s last report, on Dec. 23, of cases reported over the past 30 days.

But the decline was a reflection of the fact that schools were closed over Christmas and New Year’s and didn’t report new cases in that time, said Kelli Deveaux, a Department of Education spokesperson.

Deveaux and Robert Long, a Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson, said they anticipated case loads to rise in the next week as kids return to the classroom for a second week and as schools’ virus testing fully resumes.

School leaders in Bangor, Hermon and Brewer echoed this assertion.

The virus cases that schools report are not necessarily the result of spread within the school building. They’re merely a reflection of cases among students and staff, regardless of where they contracted the virus.

“My sense is that omicron is arriving and that we’re going to see higher cases in the coming handful of weeks,” Brewer Superintendent Gregg Palmer said.

Brewer, which participates in the state’s pooled virus testing program, detected more evidence of COVID-19 among students the past week than it has all school year, Palmer said.

At Brewer Community School, with students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, eight pools tested positive this week, topping the previous high of five, Palmer said.

Schools using pooled testing send batches of test samples to a lab that tests all the samples at once. If at least one sample in the pool is positive, the whole pool comes back positive, prompting further testing to determine who has tested positive.

Pools usually are comprised of around 10 to 12 people, Palmer said.

“I’d say overall it looks like our numbers are edging upward,” he said.

Bangor High School reported 10 cases Monday, the first day students had returned from the holiday break. Case numbers usually rise at the beginning of a week after students come back from break, Bangor School Department spokesperson Ray Phinney said.

Case counts were also on the rise among elementary school students in Hermon this past week, though down at the town’s high school, Superintendent Jim Chasse said.

“We are balancing the educational process with public health demands all while trying to maintain social-emotional wellness,” he said.

Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.