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Newton reports separate COVID-19 cases involving METCO program, Bigelow Middle School

Newton City Hall. They city's health department sent letters to families involved with the METCO program and the Bigelow school to inform them about the COVID cases.
Newton City Hall. They city's health department sent letters to families involved with the METCO program and the Bigelow school to inform them about the COVID cases.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Newton’s public schools reported two separate cases of COVID-19 among people connected to the city’s METCO program and Bigelow Middle School, a district spokeswoman said Saturday.

Families involved with the METCO program and the Bigelow school were notified by e-mail Friday from the city’s Health and Human Services Department, said Julie McDonough, a spokeswoman for Newton public schools.

The city health department told Newton METCO families that a person on a METCO bus had tested positive for COVID-19 and was on the bus during the infectious period.

At the Bigelow school, the person who tested positive also was on campus during the infectious period, the health agency said.

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The letters featured similar language, including details on how families would be advised if they are at risk: “Although we cannot provide specific information about this person, if you/your child is a close contact, you will be notified by the Newton Health and Human Services Department . . . or another public health authority.”

Newton METCO families were told that students on the affected bus or assigned to that bus had received a separate notification.

“If you did not receive a separate notification, this individual was not on your student’s bus,” that letter said.

Bigelow school families were told that affected classes will receive a notification separately from Friday’s letter.

McDonough said in a phone interview that the cases reported Friday are not related. McDonough said the district would not release how many people have been asked to quarantine as a result. The district also will not disclose whether either case involves a student, she said.

The district is coordinating with the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity about the COVID-19 case involving the METCO program, McDonough said.

Milly Arbaje-Thomas, the president and chief executive of METCO, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

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McDonough said health officials immediately began contact tracing and notification as soon as they were informed about the positive cases.

“We try to alert the school community as quickly as possible,” McDonough said.

Close contacts are individuals who have been less than 6 feet from someone with COVID-19 for at least 10 to 15 minutes during that person’s infectious period, according to the letters from the city’s health department. They also include anyone who has had direct contact with infectious secretions of someone who is infected.

Newton’s Health and Human Services Department said it will monitor cases and close contacts, and provide additional information as appropriate. In the letters, the agency asked families to contact them with any questions or concerns.

The agency asked people to wear face coverings, practice physical distancing and personal hygiene, continue to perform a daily health assessment, and remain home if they are sick, according to the letter.

If students or staff members experience symptoms such as a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath, they are asked to notify their health care provider and school, and not come to their school building, according to the letter.

Last month, Newton reopened its K-5 schools for hybrid learning, while the city’s public middle and high schools began the year with remote teaching. Students with high needs at the secondary schools may receive in-person education on campus, officials have said.

McDonough said the positive cases will not affect district plans to reopen Newton’s middle schools for hybrid learning in November, or affect transportation for the city’s METCO program.

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Newton has announced five cases of COVID-19 involving its schools since Sept. 14, including the two reported Friday.

Last month, Newton’s health department announced that two students enrolled in in-person/hybrid programs, as well as one district staff member, had tested positive for COVID-19.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.