COVID-19 Safety Update
October 6, 2021
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COVID-19 Safety Update
Good evening, WPS Community Members:
I hope today finds you well. The goal of this message is to provide you up-to-date data and reiterate mitigation efforts that work best to reduce Covid transmission.
It is encouraging that COVID numbers appear to be decreasing across the Commonwealth and the country. Unfortunately, we are not seeing the same trend in our schools. As I shared with you on Sunday, last week we had our first case of in-school transmission, with nine students being impacted within the same classroom. While at this time that is the only case of transmission within our schools, we have experienced additional cases of COVID found through our ongoing pool testing of students or through parents and caregivers informing the school of a COVID case. Currently, there are 18 active cases of COVID across our schools; 12 at the Cunniff, one at the Lowell, three at the Hosmer, one at the district level, and two at the high school.
Given the current number of cases within our elementary schools we will be reinstituting masking for all activities on school grounds at the elementary level ---indoors and outdoors--with the exception of while students are eating or drinking. We will revisit outdoor masking when we have a reduction in cases and a return to primarily negative pools.
And please remember that symptom monitoring must take place daily in the home, and children who are experiencing symptoms must stay home. Children with COVID symptoms must be tested at a point of care facility, such as a pediatrician’s office or urgent care, prior to returning to school. Home COVID tests cannot be accepted.
I understand that the rise in cases in Watertown is concerning to many students, families, faculty, and staff members and we continue to be vigilant in our mitigation strategies in school, including mask-wearing, hand hygiene, air purification, and universal COVID testing. At this time, 71 percent of Watertown’s eligible children ages 12-19 have had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. This number needs to be higher before we reconsider any of the protocols that we have in place at the secondary level.
We remain in contact with both the Watertown Health Department and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to determine what actions need to be taken, and at this time we are following their recommendations to continue the mitigation efforts and to implement Test & Stay for close contacts.
Test & Stay Program
Our Test & Stay Program for unvaccinated students who are close contacts in preschool through grade 12 due to exposure that happened in school or at a school-sponsored activity began only yesterday, with three classrooms participating and an additional two will begin tomorrow.
The Test & Stay Program allows students to be tested each school day for the week following an in-school exposure. Parental consent is required for Test & Stay. Please take a moment to fill out the consent in the event that at some point your child may need to be part of the Test & Stay.
As long as students are negative and free of symptoms, they are allowed to remain in school instead of quarantining at home.
The process is:
- Unvaccinated close contacts will need to test negative for COVID using the BinaxNOW rapid antigen test every morning before school for one week following the in-school exposure. The BinaxNOW testing will be provided to students prior to the start of the school day. Please note that Test & Stay only applies to COVID exposures in school.
After one week (on day 8), the students monitor symptoms through day 14, participating in the regularly scheduled pool testing in their respective schools.
- Test & Stay will move to Cunniff West at 175 Main Street, Waltham, beginning on Tuesday, October 12. By having the Program centrally located, we are able to staff it appropriately and move families through swiftly. We are not able to provide teams to administer Test & Stay at each school, especially with the numbers we have participating.
As a reminder, Watertown uses CIC Health for managing our testing including pool testing, Test & Stay, and symptomatic testing.
Above and beyond all of the strategies that we have in place in our schools, it is essential to recognize that we are still in the midst of a pandemic caused by a highly contagious virus. Our students ages 5-11 and close to ⅓ of our students 12-19 are unvaccinated. As such, we ask that you encourage your children to wear masks and maintain distance from others during afterschool and weekend activities, especially when they are indoors. Many of our students participate in activities that bring students together from different classes and different schools, and in order to help prevent COVID spread, mask-wearing and hand washing continue to be the best defense. We must work together to keep our children in school and safe.
If, after reading this information, you have further questions, reach out to your school nurse or to the Director of Students Services, Kathleen Desmarais at email@example.com. In addition, the District is currently exploring options to offer free symptomatic testing beginning on October 18 at Cunniff West. I will notify you if that is available in my next update.