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West Hartford COVID-19 Numbers Improve, Transition to In-Person Elementary School Possible

West Hartford Public Schools Superintendent's Office. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

This week’s numbers indicated a much lower case rate and lower positivity rate for West Hartford, prompting West Hartford Public Schools to announce a phased return to full in-person school.

By Ronni Newton

The message from West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore last week indicating that schools would not begin a planned transition from hybrid to full in-person for the elementary grades on Oct. 13 was met with disappointment and frustration by many parents, but administrators felt it was the right decision based on what appeared to be COVID-19 metrics trending in a very wrong direction. Now that numbers have dramatically improved this week, the district is announcing plans to once again move forward.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, the community has been advised to understand that much is fluid, and to expect change, but Moore is  excited to finally have some good news to share: as long as next week’s numbers remain positive, elementary school students will return on Wednesday, Oct. 21.

“I’m happy that our data is good, and excited that we can begin bringing our children safely back to school,” Moore told We-Ha.com on Friday.

Earlier in the week he had said the plan to pause was temporary, and he hoped to see metrics improve.

West Hartford Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard data, Oct. 9, 2020

According to data released by the state Department of Public Health, West Hartford had just 22 cases of COVID-19 for the week of Sept. 27-Oct. 3, which resulted in a rate of 5 cases per 100,000 of population. With a positivity rate of 1.3%, the secondary indicators are trending in a positive direction this week as well.

Last week, there were 39 cases, a positivity rate of 2.3% according to state data, and a rate of 8.9 cases per 100,000 of population based on a seven-day rolling average.

The West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District data differs slightly from what is released by the state, but Health Director Aimee Krauss confirmed positive numbers as well.

The Health District includes probable cases – those for which they are contact tracing even if there may not yet be a confirmed lab test yet, as well as the results of antigen tests – but Krauss told We-Ha.com Friday that West Hartford’s positivity rate over the past week is 0.97.

Moore did not specify the timing of a return to full in-person for the secondary schools, but in a letter to the community Friday afternoon said that either tweaks to the hybrid model which were outlined earlier in the week, or a return to in-person, might happen around Election Day.

“The metrics in Addendum Four [of the state’s plan for reopening schools] are not about spread in the schools – they are about spread in the community,” Moore told We-Ha.com previously. He said the Department of Public Health’s guidelines aren’t looking at the number of cases in schools but in the community, and the secondary indicators which are also critical are statistically significant. Last week those were trending in the wrong direction, leading to the pause.

The transmission has not been in the schools, but rather from social and family settings and workplaces, Krauss said.

As of noon on Friday, according to the district’s COVID dashboard there was one active case of COVID-19 in West Hartford Public Schools, and 28 individuals were in quarantine. Since school began on Sept 8, there have been seven positive cases in the district.

West Hartford Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard data, Oct. 9, 2020

The following is the text of Moore’s letter dated Oct. 9:

In this very long year, it has been the norm that when you see an email from me, I would not be surprised if you wonder what bad news is coming. Today, however, I finally have good news to share. This week’s report from the state on COVID-19 spread in West Hartford showed a significant decline, to 5 cases per 100,000, with our test positivity rate also dropping by a full point, as you can see on our COVID-19 Dashboard. I met this morning with the West Hartford/Bloomfield Health Department, and we agree that we can move on from the pause that we announced last week, and plan for returning our elementary students shortly. We want to confirm our numbers with the state, and watch next week, but it is our expectation that we will return at the elementary level on Wednesday, October 21st, with all students, as some now call our “purple cohort.” Starting on Wednesday makes for a half day reentry, and allows us some time to prepare and verify our numbers. Your building principals will send schedules and procedures in communication to you next week. There will be no shift for those who elected remote learning, however there will be minor changes to some of the specials offered to accommodate the shared staffing and changes in teacher schedules.

At the secondary level, we are working on both changes to our hybrid model, and plans on a possible return, either of which could happen right around Election Day. More information and plans will follow as we examine secondary trends around the state. We continue to see no evidence of spread in schools, and I am very happy that the community spread increase we saw has abated. It is difficult to make any decisions on any one day of data, or even a weekly aggregate, so the state will be shifting to two-week rolling averages, according to the Department of Public Health.

All of the data that many ask about are shared on our district website. We will continue to notify and post numbers of those who tested positive, and those in quarantine. This is not required by the state, and it is, in fact, unique. I want everyone to understand the metrics that guide our decision making, and to be aware of what is happening in our community. Working in partnership, it remains my hope that West Hartford comes out of 2020 as a more closely knit community, driven by our better angels to lift each other up rather than tearing us apart.

As we enter this three day weekend, I want to thank our whole staff for the work they have done to keep our children healthy and learning. Our nurses, teachers, custodians, paraprofessionals, security officers, cafeteria workers, secretaries and principals all have played a role in the safe start to our year. I hope that you all have a restful weekend, and can enjoy a few days of autumn in Connecticut.

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