All eyes are on Wellesley Public Schools and its innovative COVID-19 viral testing system, which has moved into its next phase with take-home tests for staff as well as middle school and high school students. Wellesley has coordinated from the start on its testing program with other communities, but lately cities and towns not included have increasingly been inquiring at the Wellesley Health Department to learn more.
“Certainly something has been circulating, whether it’s through the teachers’ union or superintendents…it’s spurred several questions,” said Wellesley Health Director Lenny Izzo last week during a Board of Health meeting. “‘Our community’s looking into this,’ they’re curious on how Wellesley did it, how’s Wellesley doing, what’s the thought process on it, how’s it working…”
The Wellesley schools are in rare company among organizations in the state doing such large-scale surveillance testing. Amazon is testing its warehouse workers.
Count us among those glad to see the school system has increased the transparency of its program by starting to post COVID-19 positive test data by school on its online dashboard. The school has been issuing alerts to WPS parents/guardians/staff, but the rest of the community trying to keep tabs on this public health issue has been left to piece things together via hearsay or information shared at School Committee and Board of Health meetings.
Of course the raw numbers only tell part of the story, and must be viewed in conjunction with other data, including metrics WPS uses to determine whether it will change its current hybrid in-person/remote learning model.
That model takes into consideration COVID-19 stats that go beyond Wellesley, including for communities where WPS staff live.
The town itself is among just a third of communities in the state to be in the green on the Commonwealth’s color-coded community COVID-19 map, which is based on positive cases per 100,000 residents. Wellesley for the first time is bordering a red community (high risk) in Dover, and is surrounded now almost entirely by yellow (moderate risk) communities, with the exception of Needham, which is also in the green.
The Board of Health’s Marcia Testa Simonson stressed during a board meeting on Oct. 28 that caution needs to be taken when it comes to the COVID-19 surge many are talking about. Looking at state data, she notes that positive cases are rising, but so too are the number of tests.
The data message “that seems to not be getting out,” she says, is that so many of the new positive tests are for those with low viral loads and not many symptoms. She’s also emphasizing that people look at data such as “excess deaths” associated with COVID-19 to get a sense of whether the disease is really causing morbidity rates to spike (it is not currently).
Among the good news in Wellesley is that those at risk, such as long-term care facility residents, are being well protected.