Cheshire school officials discuss possible COVID-19 variant

Cheshire school officials discuss possible COVID-19 variant

CHESHIRE — The public school system saw an increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases recently, prompting Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan and his team to discuss the possibility of a potential COVID-19 variant that may be cropping up among younger students.

“I want to be very careful and make sure that everyone understands that we, and the town, are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases,” Solan said. “We’ve had discussions about, ‘Is this a variant?’ because it seems to be a little bit more frequent than it has been. … We’re not making any connections to school — 99 times out of 100, frankly, it’s a family member who gets sick and then the student ends up getting sick.”

Solan provided the update to the Board of Education earlier this month, and was quick to point out that, despite the uptick, the percentage increase is, overall, very low compared to what it had been at the peak of the pandemic.

However, the increase was proof, Solan stated, that students and families should continue to follow public health guidance to prevent any further spread.

As of March 30, there were 58 students at Cheshire High and Humiston Schools who were required to be in quarantine; 23 students at Dodd Middle School; 24 students at Chapman School; 12 students at Highland School; and 23 students at Norton School. Darcey and Doolittle Schools have fewer than 10 students per school who have come into close contact with an infected individual.

“I really want to remind students and families to practice the mitigation strategies that we know have been working, not just for the school day, but outside of school as well,” Solan told the Board of Education on March 18.

Despite the increase in positive cases, Solan is continuing to phase back those students who have been learning remotely to in-person instruction at the schools. He explained at the meeting, in total, 25% of CPS students are currently enrolled in remote learning, which comes out to about 1,040 students. 

“We have seen a significant swing in people opting for in-person learning,” Solan said. “We have 169 fewer remote learners today than we did at the end of January. People are migrating back and we think that it’s very important and hasn’t at all contributed to the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

Solan explained that, while they do have an uptick in these cases, the spread has not been seen between classes or students. 

“We really need our families to continue with washing their hands, wearing masks, all the things we know are important,” he said. “We see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we are not there yet.”

On March 19 the Centers for Disease control released new guidance on social distancing in school and in social settings, saying that the 6-foot distance rule could be shortened to 3 feet. The change does not affect Connecticut schools. 

“Connecticut never mandated a six-foot distancing requirement,” he said. “The state, and our medical advisors, always reinforced social distancing as part of a suite of mitigation strategies including mask-wearing, hand-washing, cohorting, and cleaning. Connecticut guidance was ‘Maintain the recommended social distancing to the maximum extent possible.” 

“While we attempt to maintain distances of six feet where possible, lunch is the only place where we mandate it,” he continued.

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