WOBURN - Public health officials documented a half-dozen new COVID-19 infections within the school district over a seven day period, according to a state report released late last week.
According to the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), all six of the latest cases being tracked by local school officials involve students who tested positive for the viral infection between Wednesday, Sept. 22 and Wednesday, Sept. 29.
Notably, given that adults are considered at a higher health risk from COVID-19 than children, the latest DESE data also shows that Woburn made it through its first week without a staff member testing positive for the virus. Since Sept. 13, when school leaders were first instructed to collect local case data, three school system employees have contracted the viral infection.
DESE circulates weekly reports that detail local and statewide COVID-19 cases involving educators and students. As of this Thursday, the state is also compiling information about the total number of testing samples and positive results conducted weekly via a free “pooled testing” service being offered to cities and towns.
Last year, Woburn declined to enroll into the pooled testing service.
Based on previous DESE surveillance reports, 13 of the 16 COVID-19 cases recorded in Woburn to date have involved students.
Importantly, while the state data tracks overall cases in the district, it does not indicate where individuals are contracting the virus - meaning it’s quite possible that new cases involve transmissions that occurred outside of the school setting.
The data also does not include information about the numbers of staff and students who have been ordered into protective quarantines because of potential exposure to the virus.
This year, Woburn is participating in a free “test-and stay” program that allows students to avoid an extended absence away from the classroom after coming into close contact with a person infected with COVID-19.
According to DESE, during its latest seven-day reporting period, more than 6,700 BinaxNow tests were administered to pupils across the state under the test-and-stay program. Only 95 of those rapid tests have resulted in a positive result, meaning the program has prevented some 6,677 student absences that would otherwise be necessary due to quarantine orders.
During a meeting in the Joyce Middle School last week, School Committee member Colleen Cormier asked for an update about Woburn’s experience with the test-and-stay program thus far.
“It is an active program, but we haven’t had many situations where we’ve actually had to use it,” said Crowley of the test-and-stay initiative.
“We’re not seeing any spread,” later elaborated the superintendent, who indicated there are no known instances of COVID-19 transmissions occurring within schools this year. “We do have a handful of kids spread out across the district who are positive. [Those case transmissions] are usually because of household contact [with someone else who has contracted COVID-19].”
In order to qualify for the test-and-stay program, which requires parental consent, students must remain asymptomatic and test negative for the viral infection for at least seven consecutive days after being identified as a close contact of someone with the virus.
Those potentially exposed to the contagion outside of a school setting do not qualify and must adhere to normal quarantine protocols.
Last year, under statewide COVID-19 protocols, individuals who came within three-feet of a person who had contracted the virus was defined as a “close contact” if the interaction lasted for 15 minutes or longer.
As a result of that potential exposure to the virus, public health officials instructed close contacts to quarantine at home for a minimum of eight days. Because of those rules, the detection of a single COVID-19 case within a school environment could potentially cause greater districtwide disruptions as larger groups of students and educators were ordered to stay-at-home due to quarantine orders.
This year, several new “exemptions” are expected to reduce the number of quarantine orders due to school-related contacts with a person who tests positive for COVID-19. Specifically, under new state and federal guidelines, asymptomatic students who are potentially exposed to the pathogen can be excused from a quarantine mandate under the following circumstances:
• If a close contact is fully vaccinated;
• If both the COVID-19-positive student/staff member and the close contact were both masked and spaced at a minimum distance of three-feet;
• If the exposure happened on a school bus;
• Or if either party had previously tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days.