Going into the third full week of the school year, two students in the Sandwich Public Schools have tested positive for COVID-19.
These are the first two students on the Upper Cape to test positive for the virus since the school year started.
The positive tests did not result in school closures or mass quarantines.
Superintendent Pamela A. Gould said both students were exposed to the disease outside of the schools and that in neither case were any other students or staff members considered to be close contacts. No one else connected to the schools has had to enter quarantine as a result of the two cases.
The first of the cases was announced on Monday, October 5, at the Oak Ridge School. Dr. Gould sent an email to all district families about the finding.
“Through contact tracing we know the student contracted the virus outside of the school,” she said. “We are very happy to report that all of our protocols have limited the scope of this case to one student, and no other student or staff member was identified as a close or direct contact.”
Close contacts are defined as people who have been within six feet of an infected individual for at least 15 minutes without a mask, in school spaces, on the bus or at an extracurricular activity. The email does not specify when the student became symptomatic or if the student was in school during that time.
Dr. Gould said that the child’s classroom is set up with desks placed seven feet apart.
The second case was a high school student identified on Tuesday, October 6. This time, the email notification went out only to families with students in the affected school building, which houses both the high school and Sandwich STEM Academy.
A post on social media implied that the student had been attending school in person while awaiting the test result, but Dr. Gould said she could not comment on the student’s attendance.
Dr. Gould said that as more students test positive, the procedure will look a lot like the second case, with principals informing families.
In both cases, letters were not sent home to the other members of the students’ classes to inform family members of a case in the classroom.
School committee vice chairwoman Kerri L. Ames said that she had heard parents asking for information to be sent home the same way it is if a child is found to have head lice. In Sandwich, if a student has lice a letter is sent to the entire class so that families are aware.
Dr. Gould said she understands that everyone wants to know everything and that not getting such a letter is causing some anxiety, but she offered some reassurance.
“If you’re not hearing from us, that means everything’s okay,” she said.
Dr. Gould said that this is largely because no other students were found to be close contacts. In the event that they were close contacts, Public Health Nurse Joanne Geake would be in touch with them, she said.
She told the school committee at its Wednesday, October 7, meeting that the Oak Ridge case was very clearly not a situation where other students had been exposed. For confidentiality reasons, she said, she could not expand on that statement.
Ms. Ames stressed that this is not the year to send a child to school with the sniffles.
While Dr. Gould acknowledged that having a sick child is a hardship on families, she said the consequences of not keeping a sick child home can be severe.
“You literally can’t send your kid to school,” she said. “Especially if you are waiting on the results of a test.”
She said there is no stigma when it comes to getting a child tested for COVID-19 and that the schools need to know if that is happening.
“It’s in our best interest,” she said.
Board secretary Kristin Bader asked what the threshold would be for schools to have to close because of the illness. Dr. Gould said it depends on a number of factors.
In the cases that have recently been identified, contact tracing determined that the students were exposed to the virus outside of the school buildings. Since no community spread took place, school can continue as usual as those two students recover from their illnesses at home, she said.
Dr. Gould acknowledged that she is in a unique position compared to other superintendents; she is communicating daily with Fire Chief John J. Burke and Health Agent David Mason, and is continuing discussions with Chelsea Craig and the Sandwich Education Association.
Within the schools, she said, students have been excellent when it comes to masking and social distancing; the adherence to these protocols has prevented further spread of the disease.