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First school screening finds two COVID-19 cases as weekly voluntary program gets underway

Last week’s voluntary screening tests for students and staff in the Harvard schools detected two COVID-19 cases among the 715 people tested. One teacher at the Bromfield School and one student at Hildreth Elementary School immediately went into quarantine and so were never in either school building when classes resumed after winter vacation.

The screening tests were held Tuesday, Jan. 5, as reported in last week’s Press, and the school nurses received word of the positive samples within 24 hours. Because the samples were grouped in pools of 10 to keep costs low, the two positive results required the nurses to retest 20 people individually. Those 20 people stayed home for one day, attending school remotely while awaiting their test results, and then 18 were able to return.

According to a letter Superintendent Linda Dwight sent to the school community, neither person who tested positive had shown symptoms of the disease. “By testing 715 people,” Dwight wrote, “we detected two asymptomatic cases of the virus and therefore ensured that the spread did not occur in the school buildings.”

Those two cases, however, were not the only ones in the school community. Nine other people tested positive over the winter break, according to Dwight’s letter—five adults and four students. All the students were from Bromfield, as was one of the adults; the other four adults were from the elementary school community. No one in that group had been in the school buildings, so there was no school-related contact tracing, Dwight wrote.

A smooth start

The second round of weekly screening tests was held Monday and Tuesday this week. Of the 523 people tested Monday, all were negative.

Dwight reported to the School Committee Monday evening that testing at HES had gone smoothly. At Bromfield, however, the process had taken longer than expected, and plans were in the works to speed things up so that students missed as little class time as possible. When the second cohort at Bromfield was tested Tuesday, two testing stations were used and the process was completed on schedule.

The testing procedure is set up to avoid calling attention to which students are being tested and which, by their family’s preference, are not. All students go through the line and into the shelter where a nurse takes the nasal swabs. But those who are not being tested simply say hello to the nurse and walk on. Even teachers do not know who in their classes is being tested and who is not.

Dwight told the School Committee that about 40 more people joined the program this week, taking the total number tested up to about 750. She also shared with the committee several positive letters she had received as feedback from teachers and parents about the screening program.

The Harvard schools are also applying for the free six-week COVID-19 testing program that Gov. Charlie Baker announced last week, Dwight told the Press by phone. It is not yet clear whether this program will use the same provider—CIC of Cambridge—that the current program uses.

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