COVID-19 Case Report
The numbers in this week’s COVID case report represent the cases that have been officially reported to the District through our local public health departments or in the case of faculty, reported directly to administration. As I mentioned in my last Report, the prevalence of at-home rapid COVID tests that are not entered into the state’s COVID tracking system, leads me to believe that these numbers under-report the actual number of COVID-positive individuals in our community. For example, the reported number of cases at Masconomet for the period from January 13 through January 19 has fallen to 19. During this same time period, the High School averaged 107 students absent per day. This leads me to believe that we have many more positive cases than what is being reported through the Massachusetts DPH system.
The trends in reported case numbers and our overall attendance do seem to be moving in a positive direction. As previously mentioned, Masconomet had 19 new reported COVID cases for the period of January 13 through January 19. This is down from 20 new reported cases for the January 6 to January 12 period and 34 from December 30 to January 5. High School attendance has followed this trend, averaging 107 students per day in the January 13 – January 19 period, which is down from 138 students absent per day from January 6 – January 12 and 170 students per day from January 3 – January 5.
For the month of January, Masconomet has had a total of 73 new reported cases, which is up from 39 total cases in December. High School students make up the largest number of reported cases in January at 40. Middle School Students had 16 and staff had 17 new reported cases in January.
Our staff absences peaked around January 6th, at approximately 29 district-wide and have since fallen to around 17 district-wide yesterday. These absences are not limited to just COVID-related absences and include all reasons for staff to be absent from work, such as personal days, professional days, family sick days as well as personal illness days. While the number of absent faculty has fallen over the past two weeks, we need to remember that we do not have anywhere near the number of substitute teachers available to even cover this lower number of absent faculty. I want to recognize the efforts of our building administration and support staff for doing their best to arrange for class coverage throughout this period and thank them for again keeping us going during this most recent pandemic-related challenge.
Message Regarding Use of At-Home Tests
As I mentioned earlier, we have received many reports from families of students testing positive on rapid at-home COVID tests. Please note that at this time, at-home testing is considered an unofficial test and results are not recorded in the public health system as a confirmed case. Our local public health departments advise that you follow up with a PCR test to confirm a positive rapid-test result as soon as possible (ideally within 48 hours).
The current guidelines from MA Dept of Public Health for people who test positive for COVID on any test, PCR or at-home, are for 5 days of isolation, with exit/return to school & activities on day 6, IF symptoms have improved and the individual is fever free x 24 hours. Isolation is followed by an additional 5 days of strict mask wearing to minimize the residual risk of transmission with this method.
Day 0 – symptom onset or positive test
Day 5 – last full day of isolation
Day 6 – exit isolation with symptom improvement and fever free
Contact tracing is not done by schools or public health for unofficial at-home test results. Anyone testing positive n an at-home test will need to notify their own close contacts. Anyone within 6 feet for 15 minutes or greater, indoors, during the 48-hour period prior to symptom onset should be notified of exposure. This is considered the contagious period. They should be notified to quarantine (stay home if they are not vaccinated) and monitor for symptoms, and seek testing 5 days from the date of last exposure.
Please also note that if an at-home test is not confirmed via PCR, your child may be subject to additional quarantine time if they become a close contact at school, as they will continue to test positive for up to 90 days. At-home tests are not acceptable for future quarantine exemption, or for travel purposes as there is no record in public health. For example, if your child becomes a close contact at school or in sports and needs to test again to get out of quarantine, or they need to test for travel, or to attend an event, they will stay positive on tests for up to 90 days.
DESE Announces New Testing Program
On January 18th, Governor Baker announced a change in the state’s testing programs. Currently, districts in Massachusetts are offered a choice of three types of testing: surveillance testing, also know as pooled testing, where all individuals in a school or district are tested on a weekly basis in a pooled sample; test and stay, where unvaccinated in-school close contacts are tested daily using a rapid test for a period of several days; and symptomatic testing, where individuals who develop symptoms during the school day are given a rapid-test. Masconomet has been participating in the symptomatic and test and stay programs since September 21, 2021. In this time, we have administered a total of 342 rapid tests and had 17 positive results, 13 of which have been since January 1, 2022. Most of these positive tests have been from symptomatic individuals and not from close contacts in the test and stay program.
Yesterday morning, Governor Baker announced that schools would be offered a new testing program. In this program, districts that choose this new option will be given one at-home test a week for every student and staff member who opts into the program. Students and staff would administer the test at-home and agree to notify the district if they had a positive result and follow current isolation procedures for COVID-positive individuals. Districts that choose this program would no longer need to contact trace for in-school close contacts and would no longer continue the test and stay program. Symptomatic testing of students and staff during the school day would continue for districts that choose this new option. In their communication to school districts, DESE “strongly recommended” this new program. Districts that choose to opt-in by January 21st may be able to distribute test kits to faculty as soon as next week. We are currently reviewing the materials for this new program and will provide more information if we decide to participate. The table below from DESE outlines the differences between the proposed new program (Center Column) and the testing programs that are currently available (Right Column).
|Updated K-12 Testing Options (effective 1/31) Discontinue contact tracing and Test and Stay <strongly recommended>||Original K-12 Testing Options Maintain contact tracing and Test and Stay|
|Symptomatic testing and/or pooled testing||Yes||Yes|
|Test and Stay||No||Yes|
|Individualized contact tracing for in-school exposures||Not required||Yes|
|Weekly at-home antigen testing (students and staff)||Yes, with initial shipment for participating staff during the week of January 24; initial shipment of at-home tests for participating students during the week of January 31||No|
Vaccination Rate and Mask Mandate Update
As I reported on December 15, 2021, as of December 7, 2021, 80% of all Masconomet students and staff in the District were fully vaccinated. This number has climbed slightly to 81.7% as of January 18th. Per the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, school districts that have reached 80% vaccination for students and staff are eligible to receive a waiver to allow vaccinated individuals to go unmasked while in school. Masconomet received this waiver from DESE on December 17, 2021. In my December 15th report, I also explained that the next step in allowing vaccinated individuals to go unmasked in school would be to seek a waiver from the Boxford Board of Public Health from its Emergency Order Requiring Face Coverings. Because of the current surge in COVID cases, and given the other associated challenges that I’ve reported this week, such as high rates of staff and student absences, and a new testing program to research and implement, I have not approached the Boxford Board of Public Health regarding this waiver, nor do not anticipate doing so in the near future. Commissioner Riley has extended the state-wide mask mandate in schools through February 28th. I will inform the School Committee when I feel it is appropriate to re-visit this decision.