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Mass. reports new weekly high of coronavirus cases among public school students: 821 cases

157 new cases reported among staff members, a drop from previous weeks

Sara Similia, a nursing student, instructed first-grade student Hasan Mohammad Almohammadi as he gave himself a swab coronavirus test at the McGlynn Elementary School in Medford on Thursday.
Sara Similia, a nursing student, instructed first-grade student Hasan Mohammad Almohammadi as he gave himself a swab coronavirus test at the McGlynn Elementary School in Medford on Thursday.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Local school officials in Massachusetts reported to the state 821 new coronavirus cases among students and 157 among school staff members for the week that ended Wednesday.

The number of student cases reported Thursday was the highest weekly report of the academic year. However, the combined total of new cases — 978 — was lower than last week’s record-high of 1,045, likely a result of more school staff members getting vaccinated.

Officials estimate that about 610,000 students across the state are attending some form of in-person learning, and about 115,000 staff members are working in buildings — up from an estimated 575,000 students and 85,000 staff members last week.

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Cases are only reported among students who are attending in-person school; cases among students in a fully remote learning model are not being tracked by the state. Cases among staff members are only being reported if the employee was inside a school building within the seven days prior to the reported case.

Among the highest number of cases reported in a single school or district for the week ending Wednesday, Boston Public Schools reported 31 cases among students and 12 among staff members, Worcester Public Schools reported 23 cases among students and eight among staff members, and Framingham Public Schools reported 17 among students and four among staff members.

The latest figures, released Thursday, include any cases reported to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education between April 1 to 7. State education officials are not tracking when the cases occur, only when local school officials report them to the state.

Starting the week that ended Oct. 21, local school districts are required to report their coronavirus cases to state education officials. The first three reports released by the state did not require districts to report their cases.

Combined, a total of 10,299 cases among students and 5,759 among staff members have been reported to the state since September.

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Thursday’s report came just days after all elementary schools in Massachusetts were mandated to have students return for full-time, in-person learning, unless the district has received approval from the state to delay their return. About 90 percent of school districts had elementary students back full-time this week, and the other 10 percent are expected to have students back by May 3, according to the state.

All families will still have the option to choose remote learning through the end of the academic year.

Though cases in schools have been rising, state officials and experts have said in-school transmission of the virus is extremely limited. From March 7 to April 3, 25 new clusters were identified in K-12 schools, according to weekly data from the state Department of Public Health, also released on Thursday.

State officials have said parents should not be alarmed by the rising coronavirus case numbers, which are likely due to a number of factors, including the pool testing program that has launched in more than 1,000 schools statewide and is catching many otherwise-undetected asymptomatic cases. The population of students in schools has also risen significantly in recent weeks.

“What I would want parents to do is just to put it into that broader context,” Russell Johnston, senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, told the Globe last week. “The school numbers going up does not mean that schools are not safe. In fact, schools are very safe.”

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