Bedford Schools are Safe Places to be During the Pandemic

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Jan. 12, 2021—Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad Tuesday presented the School Committee with four months of Covid-19 case data that indicate Bedford schools are safe places to be during the pandemic.

Between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, there were 26 cases of the coronavirus verified among faculty and staff and 14 involving students. Only one of those 40 cases was possibly transmitted in school, Conrad said, adding that even that one is categorized only because the source could not be ascertained.

The school-by-school breakdown is Davis School, five adults, and three students; Lane School, three adults, and three students; John Glenn Middle School, three adults, and one student; Bedford High School, 15 adults, and seven students.

“We had one case where there was no real clear transmission from person to person. We had to make the assumption that it was an in-school transmission,” Conrad reported. “All the others have been confirmed as outside of school.”

“It sounds like the schools are a very safe place,” said committee member Brad Morrison. His colleague JoAnn Santiago pointed out that the policy of six-foot physical distancing precluded close contact that could have resulted in transmission.
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Committee member Sarah Scoville speculated that some students currently on a full remote model may choose to switch to hybrid learning, reassured by these data and the prospects of vaccination.

Meanwhile, Conrad shared details about a state-sponsored “pool testing” program for school districts.

Pool testing involves a single test from consolidated groups of 10 to 25, he explained. Typically, this involves an elementary classroom, a middle school homeroom, and a high school advisory group. The groups remain unchanged through the span of testing. Participation is voluntary.

If a pool test has a positive result, he continued, then everyone in the group takes an antigen test, which Conrad said will isolate the infected individuals. “We have already expressed our interest,” he said.

Ryan Doucette, BHS student representative to the School Committee, pointed out that a high -percentage of participation would be needed for the testing to be meaningful. He asked Conrad to define the objective. The superintendent said results could include early detection from asymptomatic persons, as well as what he called “peace of mind.” He continued, “Right now we are in a reactive state. This would be proactive testing and hopefully get us ahead of the spread.”

He also pointed out that “it’s expensive.” State agencies will finance six weeks of testing, with the district responsible for subsequent costs. The state will provide a list of providers.

The per-swab cost is estimated to be close to $5, and with more than 3,000 students and staff the testing could cost Bedford as much as $150,000 for the remainder of the current school year, Conrad said. There are auxiliary costs, including follow-up testing, he said.

Some districts are already pool testing, using volunteer nursing students to save money, Conrad reported. Heidi Porter, Bedford’s director of health and human services, is meeting with officials from Middlesex Community College to see if similar arrangements could be made for the Bedford schools, he added.

“She also is reaching out to other agencies for a possible cadre of pre-professionals,” Conrad continued. “Or we could train staff to be observers for older students who can do their own swabbing under supervision.”

School Committee member Ann Guay expressed concern about school districts that can’t afford to continue the testing after six weeks. Conrad said he surmises that anticipated federal aid may be a resource. Schools may also rely on donations or charge for the tests, he added.

Morrison asked Conrad to find out whether Bedford can decide when to launch the six-week state-funded period. “We need a clear set of options,” he said.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763
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