RUMFORD (WGME) — Over the past three weeks, COVID-19 cases have doubled in Oxford County, including the outbreak at the ND Paper mill that led to an longtime employee’s death.
“Yes, I knew him very well. He worked here for almost, around 42 years,” said Local 900 Union President Gary Hemingway.
“And it was reported as a COVID death. He was planning on retiring in 26 months,” he said.
All 650 mill employees are now being tested for the virus.
The union official said about 76 workers are now home; either in quarantine or because they have a health condition are a fearful of getting the virus.
“Many people are very skittish. They’re getting scared,” Hemingway said.
That includes school officials.
“I do believe this has come from out in the community. And I think the school board felt that as well,” RSU 10 Superintendent Deb Alden said.
Because of the outbreak, four schools in Rumford and Mexico will go to full remote learning on Monday.
A teacher was asked if students are disappointed.
“Very. Yep. I would say a majority of the kids that I’ve seen in person this year, a lot of them are very excited to be back in school. And it stinks that we have to be remote. But honestly, it’s the safest option that we have available to us,” said Mountain Valley High School teacher Will Lane.
Administrators say students have done a great job following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and school safety protocols.
That is not always the case in downtown Rumford, a local salon owner said.
“Really easy for our community to be complacent,” said Mindy Gorham, owner of Trendsetters
Gorham said because of the mill outbreak, she’s already seeing a change in this community.
“Like especially out in the grocery stores, I’m seeing more people wearing masks,” she said. “We need to take it serious because we want to be back in school.”
The superintendent said they will reassess COVID-19 in the community on Oct,. 13 and decide if it’s safe for students to return to school.
As for the mill, it will remain short-handed until the workers sent home are cleared to return.