Town Crier

TEWKSBURY — The Tewksbury Public School’s COVID-19 dashboard hit a record 82 cases as of Dec. 7, 2021, signaling the highest number of cases ever re­­cor­ded in the school community since the dash­board premiered in Sep­tember 2020.

The surge comes on the heels of the Thanksgiving break, when families connected for traditional ga­therings. In addition, so­cial events such as parties and sleepovers have contributed to the spread of the highly contagious, airborne SARS-COV 2 virus.

Infection numbers at the John F. Ryan elementary school on Pleasant Street hit 16 positive COVID-19 cases, according to the school dashboard. The tracker is an online tool that provides a dynamic, real-time count of positive cases in the school community.

The Ryan is the town’s fifth and sixth grade school. Close behind is the Loella F. Dew­ing elementary school on An­dover Street with 20 active cases. According to district school nurse Kelly Con­stan­tino, the majority of cases are in unvaccinated people.

Constantino expected a spike after Thanksgiving, not dissimilar from the spike af­ter Halloween, where 23 ca­ses emerged at the Wynn Mid­dle School on Victor Drive.

“We have some staff affected, but the bulk of those testing positive are students,” Constantino said.

And this surge is the worst yet.

While holiday gatherings are the source of some of the cases, others have shown to be from weekend gatherings and outside of school events. When asked about sports, Constantino said that cases are high in the athletic community, but she does not think the spread is happening on the ice, field, or court.

“I am finding it is what happens before and after the games; pasta parties, sleepovers, weekend tournaments etc.,” said Con­stan­tino.

The school nurses and the town’s health department have been working around the clock to contact trace cases and provide guidance to families that have tested positive. Constantino had to hire another nurse, a contact tracer, and the town manager hired an additional contact tracer for the health department. Constantino said that with the surge statewide, families cannot get in to see their practitioners.

Facilities all around Mid­dle­sex County are seeing a sharp rise in cases and people getting tested after the holiday and as such, people are finding it hard to get an appointment to be seen. And, according to Constantino, some parents are too sick to take their children to be follow-up tested.

“In many cases we are the only guidance they have,” said Constantino, explaining that her team is providing support via phone to families.

However, for a number of families, the situation is grim.

“We’ve heard of students being taken to the ER for uncontrolled fevers and respiratory problems. We have had parents hospitalized with serious illness, some even needing to be intubated,” said Constantino.

The situation prompted Su­perintendent Chris Ma­lone to send out a notice on Friday alerting the school community about the steep increase in cases. Malone’s letter offered a list of measures that the school is taking to keep everyone safe, but urged parents to consider guidance such as not sending a symptomatic child to school and to take preventive measures where possible.

“Sending a symptomatic student to school raises the risk level for others,” said Con­stan­tino. “I can't urge parents enough to keep their students home when not feeling well. We need to get a handle on these cases and if infectious kids continue to show up to class, we will never get ahead of it.”

In addition, the loss of learning time can be devastating for students, and Malone’s letter said he hopes to “avoid moving backwards into some of the educational restrictions we experienced over the past year and a half.”

The district had full re­mote and hybrid learning models in place for much of the 2020-2021 school year. Constantino said the teachers have been doing a great job allowing extra time for make-up work and working with students so they can be successful, but acknowledged that extensive time away from the classroom is detrimental.

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