Meriden, Wallingford and Cheshire schools saw increases in new COVID-19 cases as they entered the fourth week of the new school year. School officials say they are closely monitoring the recent cases but aren't alarmed and are working to ensure schools stay open for in-person learning.
According to state data, nine Meriden elementary and middle schools reported fewer than six new COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 15. At the same time, Maloney High School had 10 new cases and Platt High School had 16. The state-run H.C. Wilcox Technical High School had nine new cases,
Cheshire High School reported that 12 students and six teachers had tested positive for COVID-19 since Sept. 19. All other public schools in the district reported fewer than six new cases among students and teachers, according to local data.
COVID cases in Wallingford schools are concentrated at Moran Middle School, with 11 new positive tests among students and teachers as of Sept. 19, reported the district. In addition, Lyman Hall High School reported seven new cases, E.C. Stevens Elementary school had six new cases and Dag Hammarskjold Middle School had five. The rest of the schools reported three or fewer new positive tests.
New COVID-19 cases are tracked daily by the school districts but are reported weekly to the state. New state data is released every Thursday.
Cheshire High School
Cheshire Superintendent Jeff Solan anticipated most new COVID-19 cases would be among high school students.
Last week, Cheshire High School reported that 18 students and five teachers had tested positive for COVID-19 while other district schools reported fewer than six new cases each.
Solan explained that since high schoolers have more social interactions compared to elementary and middle school students, the rates of new cases would be higher regardless.
"I have a senior myself, and he leaves school; maybe he goes to a restaurant or Dunkin’ Donuts and interacts with people there. And he goes to the gym and interacts with people there. Then he goes and hangs out with his friends and interacts with others there. " Solan said. "There's just a lot more human interaction."
In addition, throughout the Cheshire district, several teachers have also tested positive. Solan said the district has enough substitute teachers available to cover the current number of absent teachers.
Solan said that the district would make drastic changes if needed to its COVID-19 policy based on the number of cases, the length of illness and the impact student's ability to learn, However, Solan doesn't foresee any changes to the protocol.
"I think we're doing everything reasonable and (that) makes sense," he said. "We're hopeful that kids have a pretty typical year."
Erin Lyons-Barton, principal of Edison Middle School in Meriden, said that although the COVID-19 protocols have relaxed over the last few years, many individual staff and students are taking precautions to ensure in-person learning continues.
"Meriden certainly did well with our distance learning, but we all know as educators that the best thing for students is to have them in class,” she said.
As she walked the halls by the seventh-grade classrooms, Lyons-Barton said that about 20% of the students wore masks even though masks were no longer required. In addition, many teachers continue disinfecting shared workstations and encouraging proper handwashing.
Currently, Edison Middle School has reported no new cases this week. However, Lyons-Barton explained that they have been working closely with Meriden Health and Human Services to keep up to date on all COVID-19 regulations.
Lyons-Barton said she was glad to see the majority of students’ maskless smiles again finally.
"Kids are happy. You can see smiles on their faces now. They're working together. They're not all separated out like they were," she said. "It's great to be in-person, but kids working together, that's where the real learning happens and that's what we're back to."
The Meriden, Wallingford and Cheshire school districts follow similar COVID-19 quarantine protocols based on guidance from the CDC and the state Department of Public Health.
Students exposed to COVID-19 outside of the school day but with no symptoms can continue in-person learning, but they must test every day, monitor symptoms and wear a mask indoors for 10 days following exposure.
Kids who develop symptoms and have positive test results must isolate for at least five days after symptoms begin. They can return in person after six days or after being fever-free for at least 24 hours. However, they must wear a mask around others until day 10 following exposure.
Those who develop symptoms but have a negative test result can end isolation after being fever-free for 24 hours. Officials ask that students self-test at home before leaving the house and wear a mask until symptoms improve. If a student or staff member decides to come into school, a school nurse can assess and send someone home if necessary.
Click here for the Meriden, Wallingford and Cheshire reopening plans.
Health Equity Reporter Cris Villalonga-Vivoni is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation by clicking here https://bit.ly/3dtcJdS. To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.