Schools have first test case of COVID-19 at Hood

Oct 15, 2020 by

Published October 15, 2020

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING —The first weekend in October provided the School Department with an opportunity to test its response to a positive case of COVID-19 within the school system when a staff member of the Hood School tested positive.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patrick Daly updated the School Committee on that response at the board’s last meeting on Oct. 5.

The takeaway was the employee had been notified of the positive test on Thursday, October 1, did not come to school on Friday and began quarantining. The School Department notified the public health nurse, and through contact tracing, those students and staff requiring quarantine were notified by the nurse and began their all-remote learning the following Monday.

Meanwhile, the entire school building was sanitized over the weekend, with particular attention paid to the areas frequented by the staff member. Subsequently, the town’s Health Department gave its approval for the school to re-open on schedule Monday, Oct. 5 so that only those students who had direct contact with this staff member needed to switch to remote learning for 14 days.

“I want to make sure it is clear to everyone how many people are involved in these decisions and how closely we work (together),” Daly said, adding, “I’m meeting with the town administrator, the public health nurse, the director of public health, the police chief, the fire chief. We’re all meeting regularly on this topic so when something like this comes up we are all in communication.”

Daly also informed School Committee Chairman Scott Buckley and was in contact with Principal Dr. Glen McKay and the school nurse throughout the weekend.

“When someone tests positive, we then begin our contact tracing process where we identify all the staff and students that the person came in contact with and also all the places where that person may have been to make sure those areas are cleaned and sanitized,” Daly said.

He explained that a “close contact is someone who is within six feet of the person for a period between 10-15 minutes.” Close contacts are notified by phone.

“We made the decision late Saturday afternoon (Oct. 3) to let people know it is out there and that this is our first case, and we are on top of this, to get ahead of any rumors,” he said, noting that there had already been misinformation circulating in the town about the wrong school being involved.

Daly added that Buckley encouraged him to also inform the broader community about the situation. He agreed that this was a positive way to handle it because he did not want anyone going to visit their grandmother only to find out a day later that about having been a close contact of someone in quarantine.

Daly said due to the way the class lessons are designed in the hybrid model there was “very little disruption to a typical day. Students that were in the classroom were able to continue in the classroom.”

“In this situation, the teacher may be out on quarantine and half of the cohort may be out on quarantine and the other half of the cohort can come into the school. The teacher, if she chooses to, may teach from home, and that is what is happening,” Daly said.

“Half the kids are home and the other half are in the classroom. So in a lot of ways, the way we designed our system, the students are not missing a beat and where they’re learning is just a little bit different…but the learning continues,” he said.

Buckley read a question from a person listening to the live chat of the meeting who asked if siblings of close contacts would have to quarantine as well.

Daly explained that siblings are not required to quarantine. “Say a second-grader is in quarantine because of a close contact. Siblings of that student are not quarantined until that student is positive. Those are per Department of (Public) Health protocols. You do not quarantine close contacts of close contacts. You only quarantine close contacts of people who are positive,” he said.

“I want people to understand in some ways the school is a very safe space. Everyone here is wearing a mask, socially distanced, and there are folks cleaning every touch point after you move out of (a classroom). You can’t really say that about every restaurant or public place, so I know that when the students are here they are in a safe place,” the superintendent said. “Everyone is committed to having students in school as much as possible.”

“If the schools are open and you do not feel comfortable that doesn’t mean you have to come,” added Buckley. “Anybody can decide that they don’t feel comfortable at any point in time. They can decide that they want to work remotely for a week or two weeks… just like if someone does not feel well. People can make the best decision for their own family and the school makes the best decision for the overall community.”

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