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Mass. public schools see COVID cases spike ahead of break; state reports 8,576 new cases among students, 1,544 among staff

Students return outside the Curley K-8 School in November.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

In the last testing report before students head home for winter break, state education leaders on Thursday reported 8,576 new COVID-19 cases among public school students and 1,544 among staff members for the week that ended Wednesday.

The 10,120 cases were 1,744 more — or more than 20 percent higher — than those reported last week, making it the highest total reported in a single week during the 2021-22 school year thus far.

About 920,000 students across the state are attending school in person, and about 140,000 staff members are inside school buildings. From Dec. 16 to Dec. 22, about 0.93 percent of students and 1.10 percent of staff members reported positive cases of the coronavirus to their school leaders.

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Weekly reports of coronavirus cases from schools have been higher over the past several weeks than at any time last year, but the increase was expected. Significantly more students are attending school in person, and more than double the number of schools have signed up to participate in COVID-19 testing services provided by the state.

Just about 1,000 schools participated last year, compared to more than 2,200 that have signed up to participate this year. It’s not clear how many schools are actively participating in testing programs, but 2,083 have reported testing data for the one-week period that ended Sunday.

For the week that ended Sunday, 30,837 pooled tests were processed, with a pool positivity rate of 3.29 percent. In the test-and-stay program, which tests students and staff who were close contacts of people who tested positive for the virus, 72,551 tests were conducted, and 71,639 tests came back negative.

For the week ending Wednesday, the districts that reported the highest number of cases were Boston Public Schools, which reported 322 cases among students and 100 among staff; Springfield Public Schools, which reported 367 cases among students and 48 among staff; and Worcester Public Schools, which reported 229 cases among students and 26 among staff.

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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 Nov. 21 to Dec. 18, there were 117 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 Dec. 5 to Dec. 18, the state reported 4,097 cases among children from birth to age, 6,343 cases among kids ages 5 to 9, 6,264 cases among kids ages 10 to 14, and 5,569 cases among teenagers ages 15 to 19.

Among people under age 20 and among all age groups, kids ages 5 to 9 had the highest rate of COVID-19 infection for the two-week period: 1,716.8 people per 100,000.

Experts also have repeatedly emphasized that while many children remain unvaccinated, COVID-19 does not cause severe illness for most children that contract it. From Dec. 5 to Dec. 18, 41 people under age 20 in Massachusetts were hospitalized, and no one in that age group died.

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Colleen Cronin can be reached at colleen.cronin@globe.com.