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Billerica high school transitions to remote learning after ‘potential evidence’ of in-school coronavirus transmission

Billerica Memorial High School will transition to remote-only learning starting Friday after at least 11 coronavirus cases were identified, including one with “potential evidence of in-school transmission,” according to the school superintendent.

Students are slated to return to a hybrid, in-person model after the Thanksgiving break on Nov. 30, Superintendent Timothy G. Piwowar wrote in a note to the high school community Thursday.

He said they won’t know whether Nov. 30 is a feasible return date until they receive results from additional coronavirus tests.

Piwowar urged students to follow coronavirus safety guidelines to stop the spread of the virus.

“I want to emphasize that we all have a collective responsibility to limit the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, washing hands, staying home when sick, and limiting social gatherings,” he wrote in his note. “This is especially true with the Thanksgiving holiday occurring next week, and I urge all members of our community to think about the impact of their decisions on both themselves and others.”

The district has requested assistance from the state’s mobile rapid response testing units, which provide free, optional testing to asymptomatic people, even if they have not been identified as close contacts to people who tested positive. Those units are deployed to schools when potential clusters are identified or when in-school transmission occurs.

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Of the 11 cases, Piwowar announced two of them on Monday, two more on Tuesday, and the other seven on Thursday. Piwowar also announced three other cases on Monday: one each at the Ditson Elementary School, Locke Middle School, and Project Support Preschool.

As of Wednesday, 1,326 cases among Massachusetts public school students and 827 among staff members have been reported to state education officials since Sept. 24. For the most recent week ending on Wednesday, 652 new school cases were reported — the highest number of total new cases reported in a single week so far.

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But reports of in-school transmission in Massachusetts have been rare, with just one incident confirmed by the state: transmission among staff members at a school in Lawrence.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said in-school transmission has been “incredibly limited” and said that schools are taking the proper precautions to keep their buildings from becoming superspreading locations.

“The policies we’ve particularly put in place around masking, distancing, and hand washing are really helping keep those numbers limited,” he said.


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.