Schools struggle to cope with COVID-19 outbreak as more Boston employees are sidelined

When parents woke up on Wednesday, Cambridge still did not have individual test scores for 3,500 students tested.

Officials said pool testing indicated hundreds of students could be infected. But the students were still allowed to return to class, a move questioned by families.

In a message to parents late Tuesday night, district leaders said 157 of 362 groups of tests were positive.

“That means there are at least 157 positive people, but there could be well over 1,000,” wrote Superintendent Victoria Greer.

By mid-morning as of Wednesday, only 125 individual test results had returned, officials said. It was not clear how many were positive.

“If we receive positive results after the start of school and your student is present at school, your student will be quarantined at the school for immediate pickup,” Greer wrote.

Parents turned to online groups and Whatsapp lists to decide how to interpret the data and instructions, with many choosing to keep their children at home on Wednesday.

“It doesn’t make sense to send everyone out waiting for the results,” wrote a parent of a student at King Open Elementary School. “But if they reported most of the positive cases, then that’s another story.”

Another parent agreed. “It defeats the whole purpose of the delayed start unless those who have tested positive have been notified.”

As schools struggled to deal with COVID-19, Cambridge on Wednesday announced that he was changing his masking order that the interior public spaces include the common parts of residential buildings with at least four dwellings as well as the common parts of office and laboratory buildings. City officials also said public meetings will be held remotely rather than in person. City sponsored events and gatherings should also be held outdoors, with the exception of youth activities or youth sports programs. The changes will take effect on Friday.

In Boston, absent staff included 658 teachers, 300 teacher assistants and 47 bus drivers, school officials said. The district reported 228 new cases of COVID for teachers and 289 for students.

Superintendent Brenda Cassellius came into the classroom to beat up a sick fourth grade teacher at Nathan Hale Elementary School in Roxbury.

“I took it up a notch and said I would clear my schedule,” Cassellius told reporters outside of school Wednesday morning.

Students from neighboring Watertown were back to school on Wednesday after a difficult return from the holidays. The district had taken in children on Monday, but after reviewing the students’ COVID test results that day, the district abruptly canceled the school on Tuesday.

Questions also remained on Wednesday about the masks the state sent to all school employees last week, ahead of a reopening this week.

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education admitted on Wednesday that it may have overestimated the state’s due diligence on masks.

“We have received an update from [the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency] today that some of the distribution’s masks, masks marked “non-medical”, had not been tested at MIT as previously believed, “department spokeswoman Jacqueline Reis wrote in an email to superintendents early Wednesday.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association had raised concerns about the effectiveness of state-distributed KN95 masks marked “non-medical” citing a June 2020 Report by a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This report indicated that the masks, manufactured by Fujian Pageone Garment Co. and marketed as being 95% effective in filtering out viral particles, were, in fact, only effective in filtering out 25% to 46% of viral particles.

State education officials initially responded that all of the masks were a model that had undergone coordinated testing by a laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These studies have shown that they are 87.5% effective.

Officials on Wednesday admitted that “some” of the KN95 masks sent to schools had not been tested. But Reis wrote: “All of the masks that were distributed last week are KN95 and remain effective. “

The updating of the state to the districts did little to assuage the concerns of some educators. “I need to know that when the state tells me something is a tool to keep my people safe, I can trust what they say,” said Patricia Kinsella, Acting Superintendent of Pioneer Valley Regional School District. She said the state’s response to the problem had “eroded that confidence.”

She said she was still unsure whether the masks distributed by the state were safe to use.

Massachusetts has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic for almost two years. The number of confirmed deaths from these diseases is approaching 20,000, and there are several hundred more deaths possibly caused by the disease.

Massachusetts has a relatively high vaccination rate. But the number of cases is skyrocketing and hospitalization levels are approaching those of the peak of the outbreak last year. So far, death rates have not increased as sharply.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the highly infectious variant of Omicron accounted for 94.5% of all COVID-19 cases in the United States during the week ending January 1. The once predominant Delta variant accounted for only 4.6% of cases.

Travis Andersen can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @TAGlobe. Bianca Vázquez Toness can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @biancavtoness. Martin Finucane can be reached at [email protected]

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