READING - Town officials yesterday afternoon shuttered Pleasant Street Center for the rest of the week upon learning that an employee there recently contracted COVID-19.

According to a message posted to the Town of Reading’s website shortly after 5 p.m. on Monday, the Board of Health has already contacted all individuals who may have been in close contact with the infected staff member in the days leading up to the COVID-19 diagnosis.

Because the viral infection poses the most serious threat to the elderly and immunocompromised populations, the Senior Center will remain closed until after the Thanksgiving holiday break.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the Pleasant Street Center is closed this week due to a staff member testing positive for COVID. The center will reopen on Monday, Nov. 29,” town officials explained late yesterday afternoon.

“All staff members are following specific protocols and are being tested. The Pleasant Street Center received a deep cleaning with special equipment over the weekend,” the public notification continued.

This week’s emergency closure marks the first time the public building has been shuttered due to a COVID-19 since Pleasant Street Center reopened its doors to the general public last June. Prior to this summer, local seniors had been unable to frequent the property since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, when the Board of Health issued an emergency order that shuttered all public buildings within the town.

The recent senior center scare comes as Reading’s Board of Health has been tracking a concerning rise in COVID-19 cases for nearly a month now.

On Monday, the Board of Health reported that at least 80 Reading residents, including 20 public school staffers and students, are quarantining at home with what are believed to be active or infective COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, per a community-level COVID-19 report released by the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH) late last week, Reading’s outbreak in a worse position than it was heading into the Thanksgiving holiday nearly a year ago. Reading, like many communities, attributed the start of COVID-19’s second-wave of infections last year to a sudden spike in infections that began following the Thanksgiving break in 2020.

Specifically, last year at around this time, DPH calculated Reading’s case incidence rate, a metric that compares total new infections over a 14-day period to a community’s population size, at 20.1. However, as of last Thursday, DPH reported that figure had climbed to 22.7 after being listed at a 21.7 the week prior.

Reading’s case positivity rate, or percentage of local residents seeking out testing who are receiving a positive result, is also far above the 2.65 percent level recorded in Reading on Nov. 19 in 2020.

According to the latest DPH report, the town’s case positivity rate now stands at 3.81 percent. The week prior, Reading’s case positivity rate stood at an even higher 4.32 percent.

While at least 20 local students and staff members are currently serving out quarantine orders, officials from the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) say the total numbers of school-linked cases have been decreasing for a few weeks now.

Based upon a DESE report released last week, a total of nine new cases, including one infection linked to an educator, were attributed to Reading school populations between Nov. 11 and Nov. 17. Meanwhile, the week prior, 10 new school-related cases were reported to DESE, while between Oct. 28 and Nov. 3, local officials notified the state about 15 newly detected infections.

Since the resumption of classes in September, a total of 92 students and staff members have contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 the illness. Seven of those cases have involved teachers or other district employees.

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