A total of 1,279 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in Massachusetts schools in the past week, state education officials said Thursday, the highest weekly total to date.
Those cases, among 1,095 students and 184 staff members, were reported from April 8 to 14, according to a weekly report from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The report, which comes out each Thursday, includes positive cases among students and staff members who have tested positive for the virus within seven days of being inside a school building. This means students learning remotely are not included.
This week’s report shows an increase in total COVID cases from last week and the week prior, as well as the highest number of student cases reported to date. Last week, the state reported a total of 978 new cases. The week before, there were 1,045 total new cases.
Education officials, however, noted that a larger number of student cases could be linked to the increase in students who are learning in school buildings.
There are roughly 650,000 students and 125,000 staffers in public school buildings. Most districts in the state started offering full-time education for K-5 students on April 5. The percent of individuals in schools reported with COVID is 0.17% among students and 0.15% among staffers.
“With hundreds of thousands of students returning to school buildings, medical experts have forecasted that the number of positive cases reported to schools may increase due to the increased volume of students. The Department will continue to follow safety guidelines and mitigation strategies, including pooled testing to help identify and isolate positive cases,” reads a note with Thursday’s data.
Cases in this week’s report include 1,081 student cases and 175 staff cases at local school districts, 10 student cases and 4 staff cases at education collaboratives, and 4 student cases and 5 staff cases at approved special education schools.
For the first time this week, DESE released information about results from pooled COVID testing programs in schools.
From April 5 to 11, there were 185 districts participating in pooled testing, according to the data. There was an average of 7.3 swabs per pool and 10,568 pools processed. Of those processed, there were 109 positive pool results. The average pool positivity rate was 1.03% and the average turnaround time was 13.5 hours.
Among school districts, Springfield saw the most student cases in the last week with 38. Boston followed with 32 and Worcester had 30, according to the data. Methuen reported 27 student cases and there were 25 in Lowell.
Staff cases were highest among districts in Holyoke with 23. Boston reported 11 staff cases and Springfield and Worcester both reported eight each.
Student cases at education collaboratives included three cases each Collaborative for Regional Educational Service and Training (CREST) and South Shore Educational Collaborative (SSEC) and one each at Central Massachusetts SPED Collaborative, LABBB Collaborative, North River Collaborative and Northshore Education Consortium.
Among approved special education schools, there was one case reported each at the Arlington School, Cardinal Cushing Centers School – Hanover, Cotting School and Willow Hill School. There was one staff case reported each at Manville School, Lighthouse School, Hillcrest Educational Centers School, May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities (Randolph) and Perkins School for Blind.
Throughout the school year, officials have said in-person spread of the virus has been minimal.
In K-12 schools, 22 new clusters of COVID-19 have been identified from March 14 to April 10, according to data from the Department of Public Health. There are 27 ongoing clusters identified before March 14.
School clusters include cases associated with a school where in-school transmission cannot be completely ruled out, officials have said, though other transmission settings are considered more likely. A cluster is considered closed after 28 days have passed since the last confirmed case.
Evidence of possible in-school transmission includes two or more cases that share a classroom or other school setting; timing between cases, as the average time between exposure and development of disease for COVID-19 is 5 days; and ruling out of other exposure settings, officials said.
Earlier this month, most districts statewide started five days a week of in-person learning for elementary school students. By May 3, all elementary schools in the state will have fully in-person learning for K-5 students.
On April 28, DESE is requiring districts to start offering full-time in-person learning for students in grades 6-8 unless the district has received a waiver.
A return date for high school students has not yet been announced.