None of the Outer Cape’s public schools had any Covid-19 cases in the state’s first report of positive tests, issued last Thursday. But as of Tuesday this week, cases were starting to appear, with two reported in Provincetown, one at Nauset Regional High School in Eastham, and one at Nauset Middle School in Orleans.
Statewide, last week’s report showed 1,230 cases of Covid-19 among the 920,000 students who had returned to classrooms. There were 190 positive tests among 140,000 staff members during that same period.
The numbers were from just three days, Sept. 13 to 15. Going forward, the reports will be published each Thursday and reflect positive tests in the state’s public schools for the previous seven days. The state has done away with remote learning this year, so with more students in the classroom, case numbers are expected to be higher than last year.
What’s different this year are new testing programs that mean fewer teachers and children will have to be quarantined.
On Tuesday, Provincetown Schools Supt. Suzanne Scallion told the Independent that, because the district is small, she did not want to say whether the two cases found there were among students or staff.
She did explain the school’s new testing protocol. When a case of Covid is identified, all students in that class and any other asymptomatic children considered close contacts are tested daily for at least five days with the BinaxNOW rapid antigen test. The tests are provided free by the state. The students can remain in school as long as they test negative.
If parents have opted out of the testing program and their children have been in close contact with an infected person, the children must be quarantined.
“We do not have any parents who have declined,” Scallion said.
This year is not much different from last year in terms of protocols like masking, Scallion said, but “we’ve come a long way,” she said, thanks to the tests.
Truro has its own prekindergarten through grade 6 school district, with 112 students. Principal Patrick Riley reported Tuesday there had been no positive tests there so far. Truro also is participating in the state’s test-and-stay program, Riley said, though in his district not all parents had returned forms allowing their children to participate.
Riley noted that it is still early in the year. “We’ll circle back to the parents who haven’t returned the forms,” he said.
The state does not require students to wear masks outdoors. Truro students were initially allowed recess only with the children in their classrooms, but after conferring with Truro Health Agent Emily Beebe, Riley loosened that restriction, allowing multiple classes to be outside without masks.
The state requires a distance of at least three feet between students indoors, with all wearing masks. “A lot of classes can maintain more than three feet,” Riley said.
When three-foot distancing can’t be accomplished, such as during one-on-one instruction, staff can wear additional protection, such as multiple masks and face shields.
Mary Ellen Reed, lead nurse for the Nauset Regional School District, said Tuesday there had been three cases in her district — two students and one staff member: one from Nauset High School, one from Nauset Middle School, and one from the Eddy Elementary School in Brewster.
The district’s other schools — Eastham Elementary, Wellfleet Elementary, Orleans Elementary, and Stony Brook Elementary in Brewster — had not yet had any cases, Reed said.
Nauset is not currently participating in the state’s test-and-stay program, although Reed said the district is trying to register for it. At this point, the school nurses in the district perform rapid tests on anyone who shows symptoms while at school but not on children who are asymptomatic.
The Nauset schools are taking other steps to keep students and staff safe. They allow staff and students in the buildings only during the school day. Visitors and volunteers, including parents, are not allowed inside. When there is a positive test, those who are considered close contacts must quarantine for seven days (close contact is defined as sitting within three feet of an infected person). Asymptomatic close contacts may return after five days if they test negative, but “we still actively monitor them for symptoms through 14 days,” Reed said.
Masks are currently required indoors statewide until at least Oct. 1 for students, teachers, and staff, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated. After that date, fully vaccinated students and staff, where at least 80 percent of the school population has been vaccinated, may not have to wear them, according to the state’s rules.
At present, children 12 years and older can be vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus. Pfizer may soon have vaccine approval for ages 5 through 11, according to news reports.
Scallion said that will be a great relief. “We worry for our kids who are not vaccinated,” she said.
The state report published last week showed other Cape Cod school districts with Covid cases: Monomoy reported six students and one staff member; Falmouth had 16 students and one staff member; Dennis-Yarmouth had six students; Barnstable had 12 students; and Bourne and Mashpee each reported one case among students.
Those numbers will be updated on Thursday, Sept. 23.