Wellesley has begun highlighting metrics on its COVID-19 information hub that will dictate the course Wellesley Public Schools take in terms of maintaining or rejiggering its level of remote/in-person learning hybridness.
Average daily new cases per 100,000 people and testing positivity rate across the state, county, and town are two of the measures. The third focuses on the home communities of public school staff, about 90% of which resides outside of Wellesley. Two of the three measures must be in the green—above agreed-upon thresholds—for things to continue as they are. If two of three are in the red, the school system will reevaluate its model.
The numbers for the first week were good, though could have been better. While Wellesley’s numbers are very strong, those for the state and county are relatively high on new cases, and mean cases for staff communities are above the threshold. The numbers are updated midweek.
What you won’t find in the numbers are stats specific to the school system, as it seeks to balance communications, transparency, and privacy (Wellesley College and Babson College, by the way, do post such numbers on their COVID-19 dashboards).
For updates on positive COVID-19 cases in the schools you’ll need to either be a member of the school workforce or get on an email list that uses a restrictive definition of school community consisting of parents and guardians. The definition of school community broadens of course when votes are needed for debt exclusions tied to school building projects, etc. Though it might be useful for anyone in the community interested in tracking school goings on to get on such a list, say, to learn that viral testing was switched last minute from the MLP to the high school.
We fortunately have contacts within the parent community willing to shed light on this public record information. In a notification issued on Oct. 1 by Wellesley High School Director of Nursing Services Linda Corridan, she cited two unrelated positive COVID-19 cases at Wellesley High, and shared information about the protocol followed. Separately, a Sprague Elementary School student tested positive. This information was eventually shared publicly during a Board of Health meeting on Oct. 7.
The town itself this week remains in the green according to the state’s community COVID-19 map, and is sandwiched between healthy green, gray, and yellow communities.
According to school officials, the initial round of baseline testing of all staff and most students went well, with a few glitches resulting in some results getting to individuals later than planned due to data entry issues, and some results not making their way to the Massachusetts Virtual Epidemiological Network (MAVEN) in a timely manner.
“Using two different vendors, we learned a great deal about the logistics involved in each step of the process and what worked well and what needed to be improved,” wrote Supt. David Lussier in his weekly superintendent’s bulletin. But protocols in place to ensure contact tracing and other safety measures were taken worked as planned when the positive cases were identified.
So the viral testing program continues to morph. Initially, the school was looking at symptomatic testing as part of the mix, though has now deferred to the town on that. The school system is, however, looking to broaden phase 2, dubbed surveillance testing, beyond just faculty and staff, about a third of which was to be tested weekly.
Now Lussier says that surveillance testing could include weekly checks on all faculty and staff, as well as potentially all Wellesley Middle School and High School students. This would involve an at-home saliva testing kit, rather than nasal swabbing that students used the first time around, that would be returned to the school and sent from there to the lab.
Wellesley has been vetting a firm called Mirimus that pools samples from groups of saliva tests to produce results.