More than 2,500 public school students and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week, about an 80 percent increase from the first three days of cases tracked by the state earlier this month.
State education leaders on Thursday reported 2,236 new cases among public school students and 318 among staff members for the week that ended Wednesday, releasing the academic year’s first full week of coronavirus data from the state’s schools and districts.
The 2,554 total cases were a significant leap from the state’s first report of 1,420 total cases last week, but the increase was expected. Last week’s report of 1,230 student cases and 190 among staff members included only three days worth of data, while the latest report included a full week.
“Parents will find it alarming, but when we look at this data carefully, look at the bigger picture, we know children are safer in school,” said Dr. Safdar Medina, pediatric director at Tri-River Family Health Center in Uxbridge. In his own medical practice, Medina said, coronavirus cases among young patients have been linked to households or out-of-school activities, not in-school transmission.
About 920,000 students across the state are attending school in person, and about 140,000 staff members are inside school buildings. From Sept. 16 to 22, about 0.24 percent of students and 0.23 percent of staff members reported positive cases of the coronavirus to their school leaders.
Weekly reports of coronavirus cases from schools also are inevitably much higher this year than they were at any point last year, in part because significantly more students are attending in-person school. Even at the end of last year, when nearly all schools were required to offer full-time in-person learning, only about 735,000 were attending in person.
For the week ending Wednesday, Springfield Public Schools reported far more cases than any other district: 107 among students and six among staff members. New Bedford, Worcester, and Holyoke public schools followed with the next highest numbers of reported cases.
Boston Public Schools reported 51 total cases — 31 among students and 20 among staff — up from 21 total cases in last week’s three-day report.
Massachusetts school districts are required to report positive cases among students and employees to the state, though the reports do not indicate how many of the people had been inside school buildings. Local school leaders are asked to report any cases among enrolled students or employed staff members, regardless of whether they had been at school since their positive test.
Reported cases among students and staff also are not an indication that in-school transmission has occurred, or that there was a cluster of cases, which is defined by the state Department of Public Health as two or more confirmed Massachusetts cases with a common exposure. From Aug. 22 to Sept. 18, there were 16 clusters in Massachusetts public, private, special education, and boarding schools.
The cases reported from school leaders are among those reported by the state public health agency every day. During the two-week period from Sept. 5 to 18, the state reported 1,260 cases among children from birth to age 4, 1,837 cases among kids age 5 to 9, 1,739 cases among kids age 10 to 14, and 2,092 cases among teenagers age 15 to 19.
Among people under age 20, kids ages 5 to 9 had the highest rate of COVID-19 infection for the two-week period: 497.2 people per 100,000.
Pool testing in Massachusetts, which is offered to both public and private schools free of charge, also has grown significantly since last year. Just about 1,000 schools participated last year, compared to more than 2,200 that are participating now.
The state has not yet released data on pool testing at schools, but plans to in coming weeks.
Experts have also repeatedly emphasized that while many children remain unvaccinated, COVID-19 does not cause severe illness for most children that contract it. From Sept. 5 to 18, 16 people under age 20 in Massachusetts were hospitalized, and one person in that age group died.
“It’s still very low,” Medina said. “And when we balance the entire picture with our children and their wellbeing, parents should still feel very comfortable.”