SPRINGFIELD — High school graduations will be conducted outside in June despite coronavirus, but city officials remained firm Monday on not allowing outdoor basketball due to concerns it could spread COVID-19.
There were 504 new cases of COVID-19 among Springfield residents last week, April 18-24, as compared to 548 new cases the prior week, a drop of 44 cases, health and municipal officials said during the weekly coronavirus update at City Hall. The city, however, remains in the red category for communities among the highest rate for virus transmission,
Superintendent of Schools Daniel Warwick said that all high school graduations are planned to take place at the Central High School field. There were no public graduation ceremonies last June during the pandemic.
City and school officials said the open area at Central will provide for safety.
“We are planning our graduations live this year according to our normal schedule, two weeks in June,” Warwick said. “It’s something I think our students and families will really appreciate.”
There were 27 Springfield students who tested positive for COVID-19 the week of April 4-9, and another 49 students who tested positive the week of April 12-16, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Those same periods had 8 cases each week of staff having COVID, the state reported.
Warwick said the numbers are low thus far, when considering there are 25,000 students and 5,000 school staff in Springfield.
On Monday, students in Grades 7-8 returned to a hybrid system of attending class, with some in the classroom and some learning by remote.
There will be a full return to classrooms on May 3, for students in pre-kindergarten through Grade 5, now hybrid, and a full return of Grades 6-8 on May 10, now hybrid, Warwick said.
High School students will return sometime in May, not yet set, he said.
Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and Health Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris defended the city’s continued policy of not allowing basketball to be played at parks, with hoops not up. They both said the policy is for the protection of they players, and potential transmission to other family members due to basketball being a close-contact sport when unsupervised.
In addition, both Caulton-Harris and Sarno stressed that Springfield remains in the high-risk category for the virus.
“It’s not punitive,” Caulton-Harris said of the hoop policy. “I’m worried of young people’s health. I want them to do it in the safest way possible. And that’s my job.”
They said the policy will continue to be reviewed in the weeks ahead as COVID-19 vaccinations continue.
Some community activists and residents questioned last week why the hoops are not up, given that it provides outdoor activity and exercise.
Sarno said the backboards at Adams Park are also down, because they had been vandalized.