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Westwood summer school employee learns she has COVID-19, after initially receiving incorrect results

Boston, MA - 7/8/2020: Melissa Leaston of Whittier Street Health Center uses a nasal swab to collect a specimen outside the Catherine Hardaway Residences in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, MA on July 08, 2020. A full day of free community-based testing took place at Central Boston Elder Services and its Catherine Hardaway Residences for the elderly and people with disabilities in the Roxbury. CBES and partner Whittier Street Health Center provided this opportunity to all members of the community who wish to be tested. (Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff) coronavirus Covid-19
Boston, MA - 7/8/2020: Melissa Leaston of Whittier Street Health Center uses a nasal swab to collect a specimen outside the Catherine Hardaway Residences in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, MA on July 08, 2020. A full day of free community-based testing took place at Central Boston Elder Services and its Catherine Hardaway Residences for the elderly and people with disabilities in the Roxbury. CBES and partner Whittier Street Health Center provided this opportunity to all members of the community who wish to be tested. (Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff) coronavirus Covid-19 Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

A Westwood school employee, hours after getting to work on Monday, received a disturbing call from her medical provider, informing her they had previously made a mistake and that she actually has the coronavirus, Westwood school officials announced on Wednesday.

Monday was the employee’s first day on the job at the school system’s summer program, where she works with students with disabilities. The incident marks the first time a school employee in this small bedroom community south of Boston tested positive for the coronavirus while on the job, according to school officials.

“We share the community’s concern that a staff member in our summer program has tested positive for coronavirus,” Superintendent Emily Parks said in a statement. “We want to emphasize that her exposure to students was limited to a three-hour block, during which time she was properly outfitted with PPE.”

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The announcement comes as educators and parents are increasingly on edge about school reopening in the fall as coronavirus infection rates are skyrocketing in other parts of the country. Some worry that Massachusetts could experience an uptick in cases as students and teachers unite again for in-person learning, although state education officials and infectious disease experts insist the risk of transmission in school settings is low.

Summer programs, such as the one in Westwood, are being closely watched to see how much of a concern the coronavirus could be in the fall and how well prepared or not are schools in protecting students and employees from the virus and the effectiveness of their responses if a case emerges.

In Westwood, the school system’s protocols appeared to have been followed correctly, but the employee unfortunately received wrong information from her medical provider. The employee began to feel ill on July 3, before the summer program began, and got tested for COVID-19. Consequently, she decided to stay home from work, following the school system’s guidelines for such situations. Over the weekend, her medical provider erroneously informed her that she tested negative.

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“She was not symptomatic, was feeling fine, and was cleared by a doctor to return to work today,” Parks wrote in a letter on Monday, notifying families of the situation. “Unfortunately, while at work, she received another call from medical personnel informing her that, in fact, she had been misinformed and that her result is positive. She immediately notified her supervisor and went home.”

The Westwood Public Health Department quickly notified families of any student who had close contact with the employee. By 6:30 p.m., all those families had been informed.

“Fortunately, the employee was able to clearly articulate the safety and preventative measures on which she had been trained and confirm that she had assiduously adhered to them,” Parks wrote in the family letter.

The school system closed the Downey building, where the employee works, on Tuesday to clean and disinfect as specified by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s protocols. Downey is one of two buildings the school system is using this summer to provide programs for about 100 students with disabilities, a population expected to experience the steepest learning losses caused by the statewide closure of schools in March.


James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.