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A Holiday Surge

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COVID-19 totals soar in Saugus Public Schools after students return from vacation

  From Sept. 8 through Dec. 22 – the Wednesday before Christmas vacation – the four buildings that make up Saugus Public Schools combined for 252 confirmed COVID-19 cases. That averages out to close to 17 cases a week for the entire school system. But during a one-week period that encompassed the first three days of school after students returned from the holidays, the School Department reported 274 cases – including 113 at Saugus High School.

  The number of COVID-19 cases in the schools dropped dramatically in this week’s reporting (through Wednesday, Jan. 12) by 85, to 189. But COVID-19 cases among Saugus Middle School students increased from 46 to 64.

  And the numbers reported at each school were substantially higher than the cases confirmed in any given week through the first 15 weeks of school. Twice during that period, the Middle reported 11 confirmed COVID-19 cases in a week. Saugus High had previous highs of 12 and 10 cases in separate weeks. The Belmonte STEAM Academy had highs of 12 and 11 in two different weeks. And the Veterans Early Learning Center reported nine in one week.

  So, in the context of COVID-19 trends over the past school year, this week ranked as a significantly high total for each of the school buildings and the second-highest district total.

  “I’m hoping the overall decline is consistent with data showing that we’re getting past the surge and that the middle school numbers fall alongside on the next report,” School Committee Member Ryan Fisher said yesterday (Thursday, Jan. 13).

  The escalating numbers reported in Saugus over the past month have been a major concern for school officials, according to Fisher. But the fact that students are in class, benefiting from in-school learning instead of remote learning from home, is a huge positive. “A big difference between this year and last is the availability of vaccines and in-school testing to limit the disruption on students who are exposed,” Fisher said.

  “There have been obvious difficulties with finding testing and I’m hoping that will continue to ease. I’ve spoken to a number of parents with children under five who can’t get vaccinated, or who have family members with precarious health situations who aren’t protected by vaccines, and I hear the same comments from some parents of ‘It’s no big deal. I’m sending my kid to school who tested positive because she’s feeling better,” he said.

  “Kids are better off in the classroom, no question, but there’s a lot of anxiety. We’re going to keep supporting, keep testing and keep asking everyone to do their part to help keep schools open,” he said. “Some parents, based on their child’s age and the health status of their families, are in a tough spot right now. Teaching to in-person students as well as remote students is difficult on everyone, especially with our youngest learners. I’m hoping we’re going to follow the South Africa model and ease out of this surge quickly.”

  With holiday surge anticipated, there were some parents who wondered whether spending the first week in remote learning instead of returning to school immediately would have meant fewer students exposed to the virus. Fisher doesn’t believe it would have been wise for state Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley to order remote learning for the first week. “The reality is the second week wasn’t much better than the first week, so if the commissioner had gone that way we’d likely still be in remote, right?” Fisher said.

  “Last year, when we were dealing with this, the variants were more harmful, and no one was vaccinated. I don’t think that would have been a realistic option this year,” he said.

COVID-19 in Saugus Public Schools

Veterans Early Learning Center

  Sept. 8–Dec. 22 – 52

  Dec. 23–Jan. 5 – 47

  Jan. 6–Jan 12 – 21

  Total for school year – 120

Belmonte STEAM Academy

  Sept. 8–Dec. 22 – 75

  Dec. 23–Jan. 5 – 68

  Jan. 6–Jan 12 – 62

  Total for school year – 205

Saugus Middle School

  Sept. 8–Dec. 22 – 63

  Dec. 23–Jan. 5 – 46

  Jan. 6–Jan 12 – 64

  Total for school year 173

Saugus High School

  Sept. 8–Dec. 22 – 62

  Dec. 23–Jan. 5 – 113

  Jan. 6–Jan 12 – 42

  Total for school year – 217

School totals at a glance

  Sept. 8–Dec. 22 – 252

  Dec. 23–Jan. 5 – 274

  Jan. 6–Jan 12 – 189

  Total for the school year – 715

(Editor’s Note: These statistics are based on the weekly “Saugus Public Schools COVID-19 Case Reporting” database, which is compiled on a Wednesday-Wednesday basis, beginning with the period Sept. 8 through 15.)

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