By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — The latest novel coronavirus surge has been incredibly challenging for the school district, COVID-19 Nurse Coordinator Toni Rebelo said during the School Committee’s Jan. 4 meeting
According to the Office of Emergency Management, there are 475 active COVID cases in Lynnfield as of Tuesday morning. There have been 2,625 total cases since the start of the pandemic and 2,119 people have recovered from the virus. Thirty-one residents have lost their lives to the novel coronavirus.
The School Department’s COVID-19 dashboard revealed there were 70 cases as of Tuesday morning. Lynnfield Middle School has the highest number of cases with 26. There are 19 cases at Lynnfield High School. There are 13 cases at Huckleberry Hill School, 10 cases at Summer Street School and two cases at Lynnfield Preschool.
“We anticipated there would be an increase in cases over the holiday break just like we did last year, but we didn’t expect to see this volume,” said Rebelo. “We are seeing the rise in cases in other districts and across the country. We are hoping we are at the peak. We are trying to keep the buildings as healthy as possible.”
Rebelo recalled that the CDC has created new guidelines for Americans in the wake of the Omicron variant spreading across the country.
“The Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have adopted those new guidelines,” said Rebelo.
Rebelo said students and staff who test positive for COVID and are symptomatic have to isolate for five days once they test positive.
“But that doesn’t mean a person is going to feel well after five days,” said Rebelo. “We have been seeing, particularly at the high school, students coming back too early because they want to participate in activities. We had to send a bunch of kids home because they were still not well. We want people to be feeling good before they come back into the building. The teachers and principals will understand if students need to take their time because this illness is different for everybody.”
If an individual is asymptomatic, Rebelo said they have to start isolating as soon as they test positive for COVID. She said symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals can stop isolating on day six if their symptoms have improved and they have had no fever for 24 hours. Afterwards, she said people have to wear a mask around others for an additional five days.
Rebelo said close contacts who are not vaccinated have to quarantine for five days beginning when the close contact occurred. She said close contacts can take a PCR or an at-home rapid antigen test on day five and if the individual tests negative, they can exit quarantine on day six.
“People should monitor their symptoms for 10 full days,” said Rebelo. “If symptoms develop at that point, people should get tested. The guidelines have not changed if someone is vaccinated. They just need to monitor themselves for symptoms.”
Rebelo said in-school contact tracing for LMS and LHS students has been “scaled back.”
“We made that decision because we weren’t seeing any of those close contacts in those situations at the middle school and high school come back positive,” said Rebelo. “We will still notify families if there are exposures at lunch because that is the most vulnerable time because students are not wearing masks.”
Rebelo noted that vaccinated people are testing positive for COVID at the same rate as unvaccinated individuals.
“It is very different than what we were seeing during the first two months of the school year when we saw a clear problem with unvaccinated individuals,” said Rebelo. “We are not seeing that anymore. The vaccine is helping with the duration and severity of the illness.”
Rebelo said contact tracing and the Test and Stay program will continue being used at the elementary schools because the vaccination rates at both schools is “low.”
“That is because the vaccine has just become available for younger children,” said Rebelo. “Elementary school students are in classes together all day, eat lunch together and go to the same specials. We felt that we should treat them as a family unit.”
If a student or staff member feels sick in school, Rebelo said school nurses will test those individuals for COVID.
“We are now accepting the at-home rapid antigen tests given the difficulty of obtaining PCR tests,” said Rebelo. “It will make things easier for families. We have noticed delayed positives on the rapid tests. There have been people who are symptomatic test negative on the first or second day with these rapid tests, and then test positive on the third day. People should continue to test themselves if they think something is off.”
Rebelo said school officials will make adjustments to the district’s COVID protocols if the need arises.
School Committee member Phil McQueen asked if the district has enough tests.
Rebelo said yes.
“The best thing people can do if they are sick is stay home and get tested,” said Rebelo.
In response to a question about lunch from School Committee member Kate DePrizio, Rebelo said DESE’s lunch guidelines have not changed.
“We are not seeing increased rates of transmission at lunch,” said Rebelo.
School Committee Vice Chairwoman Stacy Dahlstedt asked if the district has enough substitutes in the wake of the latest COVID surge.
Superintendent Kristen Vogel said it has been a struggle finding substitutes this year.
“Fortunately, we have a number of college students who are substituting for us right now,” said Vogel. “We will be in good shape for the next two to three weeks, but I expect we will be facing some challenges afterwards. We have done an excellent job figuring it out and making it work, and we will continue to do that.”
School Committee member Jamie Hayman asked if the district will be holding any booster clinics.
Rebelo said local officials are hoping to host a booster clinic in the near future.
In response to a question from Dahlstedt, Vogel said the School Department had to consolidate some bus routes last week due to drivers getting sick.
“If I had my CDL license, I would have picked up a route,” said Vogel.
Vogel thanked parents and guardians for being patient in the wake of the latest COVID surge.
School Committee Chairman Rich Sjoberg thanked Vogel, Rebelo and the entire Administrative Leadership Team for spending New Year’s weekend getting and distributing rapid tests for educators before they came back to work after the holiday break.