Bedford High School classes are immediately pivoting to the “fully remote” model for the next two weeks, in response to an increase in Covid-19 cases among students.
The announcement from Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad on Thursday afternoon coincided with the news that Bedford is now in the state’s “red” caseload designation, with19 positive cases identified over the past two weeks. According to the state Department of Public Health, the town’s incidence of cases per 100,000 population is 9.11. The threshold for the “red” designation is 9.
However, that status did not trigger the BHS downgrade, and John Glenn Middle School, as well as Lane and Davis schools, remain in the hybrid model. Conrad noted that “we have planned for such contingencies since the start of school.”
The decision at BHS, Conrad said, was based on contract-tracing details and other data on current cases, which “support the occurrence of in-school transmission.”
He reported that not only are there eight active cases in BHS, and 18 high school community members under quarantine, but also “new case information indicates that there are many other BHS community members who are under quarantine at home as a result of close contact, outside of school, with Covid-19 positive household or community members.
“Testing results are pending for many of these close contacts, and some have developed symptoms,” he added.
The source of at least some of the cases, Conrad indicated in his announcement, appears to be “gatherings and after-school and weekend ‘hang-outs’ where lack of social distancing appears to be contributing to transmission.”
“After all of the hard work and planning that enabled us to successfully start school with students in a hybrid model, we are profoundly disappointed to have to transition to our full remote model at BHS for a two-week period of time,” said the superintendent’s statement. “We are deeply sorry for this disruption to your and our plans. However, if we want to be able to continue to have our children in school, we must come together as a community to continue to take the necessary precautions.”
“During the closure, it is important for the BHS school community to be mindful of necessary precautions and adhere to the social distancing and mask-wearing guidance that has been promoted in the state of Massachusetts since the early days of the pandemic,” he continued. “While we are witnessing various modes of transmission within our community, many cases are generated within households.”
Someone who tests positive not only needs to remain home but to isolate from others in the household. “People who are in isolation must stay home until it’s safe for them to be around others and cleared by the Board of Health or Community Tracing Collaborative,” he said.
Conrad advised that BHS Principal Heather Galante plans to send additional information to students, families, and staff regarding the logistics of the change from hybrid to full remote.
Town Manager Sarah Stanton, in an announcement acknowledging the “red” designation, noted that “contact tracing and testing remain extremely important tools to combating the spread of Covid-19. If you receive a call from a contact tracer, please cooperate. This will help keep you and your community safe.”
“The safest place to be on Halloween weekend is at home,” Stan ton said. “If you do go out, please remember to wear a multi-layer protective face covering even if your costume already includes a mask, limit social gatherings, and avoid indoor get-togethers.”
Testing for Teachers and Town Employees
In an unrelated initiative, the town on Thursday announced that municipal and school employees will have access to Covid-19 testing.
Staff members, including firefighters and community health nurses, will be trained in sample collection, facilitating access to timely Covid-19 testing in the event of an at-work exposure or cluster, if they are symptomatic, or if they are a close contact of a confirmed case. Further details are being made available to employees.
Stanton pointed out that “essential personnel have been working in-person throughout the pandemic. Town offices have been fully staffed in-person since mid-June (and open to the public on an appointment-only basis), and many teachers and students returned to school in-person in September.”
The new testing capacity means workers “can safely stay in their work environments, therefore bolstering the ability to keep school and municipal buildings open to serve students and the Bedford community,” she said.
The program involves two Cambridge businesses, Pro EMS and the Broad Institute. This collaboration facilitates training in sample collection through the Bedford firefighters and school nurses, with follow-up analysis and reporting at the Broad Institute.
For residents, free testing sites are open in several communities as part of the “Stop the Spread” initiative. Locations can be found at www.mass.gov/stopthespread. Residents should check on their insurance coverage before booking a test.