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West Hartford Public Schools’ First COVID-19 Case Will Not Require School Closing

Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore provided an update on the reopening of schools, and the COVID Dashboard that went live last week.

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford Public Schools administrators were notified Friday night that a member of the Hall High School community has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, the first case that has been confirmed since schools re-opened Sept. 8.

In a letter to the school community early Saturday morning, Assistant Superintendent Andy Morrow said, “The individual has not been in the school this week, and based on the Health District’s direction and guidance, there are no affected individuals at Hall or other schools who will need to quarantine due to contact. We will continue to work with the Health District and the individual to make sure they are fully recovered before returning to school.”

While no further details were provided in order to protect the individual’s privacy, Superintendent Tom Moore told We-Ha.com that a major benefit to having the district’s hybrid schedule alternating cohorts on a week-to-week basis means that in this case, the affected individual has not had any exposure to the school community.

Hall High School will be open as usual on Monday morning, and has undergone the extensive cleaning and disinfecting process that is taking place nightly at all of the district’s schools.

In an interview earlier this week, Moore said, “We’ll have a positive test, we know that, but the question is, can we mitigate it.”

The West Hartford Public Schools’ COVID Dashboard, which went live on Sept. 11 and is updated daily (on weekdays; it has not been updated to reflect the information released Saturday morning), indicates the number of students and staff who have tested positive or are in quarantine at each of the district’s schools.

The school community – students, teachers, staff – is a population of about 11,000. “We’re always going to have numbers on that dashboard,” Moore said.

“We know why everyone’s in quarantine,” Moore said, noting that in most cases it’s due to travel, and some are because an individual came into contact with someone who tested positive.

The district’s actions when there is a positive case will vary, Moore said, depending on how many people that individual has had contact with, and whether or not it is possible to isolate the exposure. The reaction may be different when the positive individual is a teacher vs. a student, whether they are in an elementary school where there are defined cohorts, or whether they are in a middle or high school where there could have been contact with more people.

Moore said the hybrid method established for West Hartford Public Schools in this case served as an effective control measure. “It’s an exposure to less kids, and a built-in nine-day period when you’re not exposed.”

“This is our first case in a school, but with a district and community our size, it will not be our last,” Morrow said in Saturday’s letter. “We have solid measures in place and will continue to do all we can to keep our community safe.”

Back-to-school has been different from any other year, but Moore said overall, the re-opening of schools has been positive.

“The opening has gone as well as we could have expected, more successful than I thought it would be,” Moore said.

Challenges were expected, and with those who are doing remote learning they can’t just run down to the office to fix a schedule problem.

“Things on the first day of school are never all in place,” Moore said, and fixing things for a remote school with roughly 1,500 students can be a challenge.

“Time and patience” are what he is asking for now, Moore said. “This is something different, and people are working really, really hard. … Teachers are doing a great job and overall the response is very positive.”

There have been nine in-person school days thus far, with the first week split between the Red Team and Blue Team. This past week the Red Team was in school all week, and this coming week the Blue Team will be the buildings.

“I think the elementary school is doing a fabulous job,” said Meredith Chandler, whose daughter started kindergarten on Sept. 8.

The plan to transition schools back to full in-person learning is still on track to begin with the elementary schools in October, Moore said.

“If we continue to follow the pattern of mitigating spread in the schools, and the state metrics allow, we are ready to bring them back,” Moore said.

The middle and high schools will be more challenging than the elementary schools are, with the larger populations and lunches posing the biggest problems. There aren’t many big high schools in the state that aren’t hybrid right now, Moore said.

“Am I hopeful that we can do it? Yes,” he said, but there will need to be many more discussions and strategies developed over the next several weeks.

Morrow, in his letter, reiterated Saturday that families need to continue to adhere to the district’s health protocols and check every morning that:

  1. Your student does NOT have a fever greater than 100 degrees OR lower if your child is not feeling well.
  2. Your student doesn’t have other signs of illness. 
  3. No one in your household has a fever or sign of illness.
  4. Your student has not been in close contact (within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes) with anyone confirmed with COVID-19 within the last two weeks.

“If the answer is YES to any of these questions, DO NOT send your student to school. Instead follow quarantine protocols for your child and contact your healthcare provider as well as your school,” Morrow said, thanking the community for “cooperation and support in maintaining our community’s health and reinforcing the measures that we have put in place.”

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