Cases of COVID-19 are rising across the Cape, including among students in the schools.
Area school districts are reporting record-high numbers of students contracting the virus.
This week, the number of students with the virus in the Sandwich Public Schools nearly doubled between Monday and Wednesday. The district updates its data several times per week.
On Monday, December 13, the district was reporting that 24 students were out of school with the virus. By Wednesday, that number had reached 44 students.
Additionally, 71 Sandwich students are in quarantine due to their close contact or travel status, and 49 students are participating in the Test and Stay program. The program allows students who would otherwise be required to quarantine due to close contact status the option to be tested for the virus by the school nurse for five consecutive days.
Students who test negative are able to attend classes for the day. Districts have to opt into the program, and parents have to provide consent before a student can be tested.
Sandwich Superintendent Pamela A. Gould said this is the highest number of students who have been positive for the virus at any given time since the start of the pandemic, nearly twice the numbers seen last year.
She said many of the cases were contracted outside the schools and it does not appear to be spreading within the classrooms. Since students are masked throughout much of the school day and spaced three feet apart in the classrooms, the in-school exposure is happening during lunch, she said.
Most of the exposure is happening outside school, where Dr. Gould said children are not wearing masks as consistently. At least one outbreak involves a mother who knowingly brought her COVID-19-positive child to an event.
Within a few days, that child’s peers, who had also attended the event, were testing positive for the virus, too.
Sandwich is not alone in seeing increased COVID-19 numbers, either.
Falmouth Public Schools has had a total of 26 positive cases identified through the test and stay program in the first three months of the school year.
Superintendent Lori S. Duerr shared the information with school committee members during their meeting on Tuesday.
Three of those cases cannot be attributed to an out-of-school source. However, this does not indicate that the positive cases occurred in the school, Dr. Duerr said. The remaining 23 cases from the test and stay program were identified as out-of-school exposure.
Since school began, there have been 66 instances in which students had close contact with someone with COVID-19 but opted out of the test and stay program and were required to quarantine, Dr. Duerr said. As of last Friday, seven students were quarantined.
“It’s a pretty good rate considering we are testing hundreds of kids across all of our schools pretty much all of the time,” Dr. Duerr said.
Falmouth School Committee member Leah Palmer asked if the bulk of the spread was occurring from in-school or out-of-school exposures.
“The amount of spread last year for people who were learning virtually was higher than the amount of spread in school,” school district physician Dr. Gregory W. Parkinson said. “It appears to be supervised mask-wearing in schools is the safest option.”
Ms. Palmer also asked for advice on which numbers are important to pay attention to in terms of students.
“To me, the most important number is what percentage of students are immunized. That is the one I am always trying to impact every single day,” Dr. Parkinson said. “That is the most important number because that is the one that can move the needle and make us hope for a time where we don’t all have to wear masks.”
Seventy-one percent of students and staff in Falmouth schools were vaccinated as of December 3.
On December 9, Mashpee had 16 student cases. By December 13, the district reported that 31 students were actively positive with the virus.
The state reported Bourne as having 24 cases among students last week and Falmouth as having 23. This week, the state reported those districts as having 22 and 34 cases within the student populations.
While the cases among students are increasing, there have not been any reports of students being hospitalized with the virus on the Upper Cape.
This week, Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. announced more than 100 communities will be getting shipments of rapid at-home tests to distribute to residents. The recipients include four towns on Cape Cod.
Among the list of receiving towns are four Cape Cod municipalities: Barnstable, Dennis, Eastham and Orleans.
Gov. Baker said the state selected communities with the highest percentage of families at or below the poverty level when deciding where the 2.1 million test kits would be sent. He said the communities chosen account for 3.7 million residents of the state.
Test kits will be delivered on a rolling basis throughout the week. How the tests will get to residents will be determined by the town, although the state is emphasizing that families and individuals who are facing financial hardships have prioritized access to the kits.
The state is sourcing the test kits from iHealth Labs. The tests can be completed at home, and the results do not need to be reported to the state health department. Results will be ready in 15 minutes, and the tests can be used on people as young as 2 years old.
Each test kit contains two tests, which are intended to be used about 36 hours apart.
Health Secretary MaryLou Sudders said if someone tests positive, they should isolate for 14 days and alert their close contacts that they may have been exposed to the virus.
The state has purchased the test kits at a cost of $5 each.
While this shipment of tests is a one-time deal, the state is also working on plans with test manufacturers to provide bulk test kits to towns at a fixed, state-negotiated price. Gov. Baker said he expects cities and towns will be able to purchase the tests in bulk by January.
A cost estimate for the bulk test kits was not immediately provided by the state. However, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said municipalities will be able to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to purchase the kits when the time comes.
Enterprise reporter Mackenzie Ryan contributed to this report.