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Changes to COVID-19 Protocols (January 9, 2022)

Dear Ashland Community,

It certainly has been an interesting week. I think most of us were appreciative of the snow day on Friday.  However, just because we received about 8 inches of snow, COVID-19 did not allow for many of our staff to take a break. The Omicron variant has changed how we must conduct business and utilize our resources. While the state positivity rate hovers in the 20% range, we know full well that the data is underreported due to at-home antigen testing.  Almost 50% of the positive cases reported below are from home antigen tests.

I am writing to inform you of some changes to our reporting of positive cases, our protocols on contact tracing, and how we will move forward with testing symptomatic individuals. As with all decisions during the past 22 months of the pandemic, we need to be flexible and do what we can to ensure all members of our school community are safe and our doors are open for teaching and learning. Please read this letter carefully as each component provides critical information.


Contact Tracing
There have been significant changes at the state and local levels concerning notifying and identifying close contacts. The state’s contact tracing unit, the CTC, closed on November 30. Local health departments have transitioned the responsibility of notifying close contacts to the positive individuals themselves.

Our nursing staff and administrators have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to identify and notify those deemed “close contacts.” We implemented the state’s “Test and Stay” protocol, which allows for testing of unvaccinated close contacts exposed in school only. Although this was a useful mitigation strategy in previous months, the current surge of Omicron is proving this strategy to be ineffective at stopping the spread, as a large majority of students testing positive are vaccinated. Given the current surge, we cannot definitively track all close contacts. Effective Monday, January 10, 2022, APS will no longer be conducting contact tracing or the “Test and Stay” program. It would be beneficial to consider all students as possible close contacts to COVID and monitor them for symptoms.


COVID Case Reporting
I am in the process of updating and adjusting how we report positive Covid-19 cases to the public in light of the surge we are experiencing. I think it is important to be as transparent with the data as possible, which we have committed to since March 2020.  Here is some relevant information from the past week covering January 3, 2022 through January 8, 2022. This is the week we were in school and accounts for a number of cases that were identified before school started.

 

Jan 3 - Jan 8, 2022

       
 

Positive Cases

Vaccinated Individuals

Return to School on 1/10/22

Cases Identified by Antigen Tests

Pittaway School

3

0

0

0

Warren School

23

3

10

8

Mindess School

20

10

14

4

Ashland Middle School

19

12

14

11

Ashland High School

49

35

30

16

         

Totals

114

60

68

39

Percent of Positives

 

53.57%

60.71%

34.82%

         

APS Staff Positive

16

     



APS Pool Testing

A few families have encouraged the District to start pooled testing for our students. We are fortunate that APS has a very high vaccination rate, and we believe vaccinations to be one of the best mitigation strategies for our community. However, DESE recommends that vaccinated individuals do not participate in pooled testing. Additionally, pooled testing requires a significant amount of time to collect specimens, and there is a significant wait time for results (typically up to 48hrs) allowing the virus to continue to spread.

We have determined that pooled testing is not an effective mitigation strategy given the newest DESE/DPH guidelines and the current surge of Omicron. As we are seeing more cases of students with COVID-19, we need to focus our attention on other mitigation strategies (i.e. encouraging folks to get vaccinated, continued use of facial coverings, washing hands regularly, physically distancing the best we can, and asking families to keep students home when they are not well). Instead of pooled surveillance testing, APS will pursue the use of symptomatic testing only.

Symptomatic Testing
Any student who has a COVID-positive household member or is currently pending results, whether symptomatic or not, should notify their school nurse before returning to school. Any student displaying symptoms of COVID-19 while at home must be kept home and tested for COVID-19 before returning to school.

Based on DESE’s protocols for symptomatic students, regardless of vaccine status, students displaying symptoms of COVID-19 will be dismissed from school. These students may return based on current DESE protocols for symptomatic students and after receiving clearance from their school nurses.

In light of the difficulty scheduling or obtaining testing for COVID-19, school nurses may give parents the option to have their child tested for COVID-19 before they are dismissed from school using a rapid antigen test only if they become ill while at school. Testing may only be performed with parent consent. Please fill out the consent form through CIC to provide consent for testing your child. 


Be well,

James E. Adams
Superintendent
Ashland Public Schools