READING - Schools Superintendent John Doherty yesterday advised parents that Reading's first confirmed COVID-19 case is the parent of Coolidge Middle School and Reading Memorial High School students who are now too experiencing common symptoms of the illness.  

In a letter sent out to the school community on Thursday afternoon, Doherty provided additional details about the impacted local resident, whose two children began showing signs last weekend that they too may have contracted the novel coronavirus.  

Thankfully, all members of the Reading family have thus far only evidenced mild symptoms from the viral infection, which health experts say will result in non-life-threatening, flu-like symptoms for the majority of people.  As the superintendent assured the community, all teachers and other close contacts of the involved students are now being notified about the potential case cluster.  

The Reading children, who were described as asymptomatic while school was still in session last week, are recovering at home with their parent and will be subject to a self-quarantine order being monitored by the town's Board of Health.      

"All teachers working directly with the students, as well as other close contacts in the schools, have been or are in the process of being notified," the superintendent explained.  

"The students were asymptomatic last week and developed mild symptoms over the weekend.  All members of the family are currently self-quarantining.  Our thoughts go out to that family for a healthy recovery," Doherty added.  

The Board of Health first received word from the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH) on Wednesday about Reading's first known resident to contract COVID-19 on Wednesday afternoon.  Town officials immediately responded by notifying the general public about the "presumed positive" case, which is the designation given whenever the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has not verified state testing results.   

Under both state and federal medical privacy laws, town officials cannot disclose the identity of local resident or his/her family.  However, public health authorities are allowed to provide basic case details in order to prevent the communicable-disease outbreak from spreading further.  

Given the steep rise in statewide COVID-19 cases in recent days, town officials have acknowledged the growing likelihood that Reading residents would eventually test positive for the novel coronavirus.

"We anticipate cases such as this will increase over the next days and weeks, but we wanted you to know, as this is one of the first cases in Reading," Doherty said yesterday.  "So you are aware, symptoms typically begin within five days of exposure, but can develop up to 14 days from contact."  

Many other communities in the area are similarly responding to their first COVID-19 cases.  In Woburn, city officials yesterday received news of the community's second presumed positive test — an adult who is now recovering at home.  

Winchester has also confirmed at least three novel coronavirus cases, including an elementary school pupil and two adult residents.  In one of the larger outbreaks within the immediate region, Lexington officials are tracking a cluster of seven residents with COVID-19, while 19 other community members have been instructed to self-quarantine.  

Infectious disease specialists from both DPH and the federal Center for Disease Control (CDC) say COVID-19, the illness caused by the SARS-Cov-2 virus discovered months ago in China's Hubei province, will cause mild to moderate flu-like symptoms for the majority of people.  In fact, many public officials are now acknowledging that at least some who have contracted the virus experience no obvious symptoms at all.  

However, in roughly 20 percent of cases, the highly contagious disease causes more severe lung infections that require hospital care or advanced medical interventions.  

It is believed the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions are most at risk from COVID-19, and in recent days, city and state governments have taken unprecedented steps to protect those most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus strain.  

In the latest emergency orders from Governor Charles Baker, roughly 2,000 members of the Massachusetts National Guard were activated yesterday to help with state's response to the public health crisis.  Baker earlier this week also ordered all daycare and early education centers shuttered beginning next Monday, March 23. 

According to the latest DPH figures, there are at least 318 COVID-19 cases across these state.  Just shy of 120 of those positive tests came from residents living in Middlesex Country, which remains at the epicenter of the statewide outbreak with nearly twice as many cases than any other region.

To date, there have been no deaths in Massachusetts' attributed to the novel coronavirus, but as of Thursday afternoon, at least 43 patients had been hospitalized due to the illness.

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