Mirroring the upward trend of COVD-19 cases in Massachusetts, education officials on Thursday reported the highest weekly COVID-19 infection numbers for public school students and staff this academic year and an outbreak at Boston Latin School, as students began their winter breaks.
There were 8,576 new COVID-19 cases among public school students and 1,544 among staff members for the week that ended Wednesday, up more than 20 percent from the 8,376 cases reported last week, according to education officials.
About 920,000 students are attending school in person statewide, and about 140,000 staff members are working in school buildings. From Dec. 16 to Dec. 22, about 0.93 percent of students and 1.10 percent of staff members reported COVID-19 infections to school leaders, officials said.
The districts that reported the highest number of cases were in the state’s three largest cities: Boston, which reported 322 cases among students and 100 among staff; Springfield, which reported 367 cases among students and 48 among staff; and Worcester, which reported 229 cases among students and 26 among staff.
In new data posted Thursday by Boston Public Schools, there were 461 new infections among city students and school staff in the previous week, up from 290 cases last week and 345 the week before.
The district’s highest case count was at Boston Latin School, which reported 13 new infections Thursday, bringing the school’s weekly case total up to 49 positives just one day after families were initially informed of the cluster, Head of School Rachel Skerritt wrote in an e-mail to parents.
The school on Wednesday reported 36 positives, which Skerritt said mostly “involved students in the upper grades,” many of whom contracted the virus through contact with students outside of school.
“Many of these cases are the result of unmasked or improperly masked contact between students outside of school time, including weekend social events and contact amongst some of our athletic teams,” Skerritt wrote in the e-mail Wednesday. “Very few of our cases to date this year have been from classroom transmission, which speaks to the effectiveness of mask use and ventilation.”
Boston Public Schools Health Services is working to contact trace potential exposures from Latin School, but Skerritt said they were unable to complete contact tracing procedures on Thursday because of “the significant number of cases reported across the city this week,” causing delays in the process, according to the e-mail.
Boston Latin students on Wednesday were given two free at-home COVID-19 test kits, which they were advised to use five days after potential exposure and 24 hours before returning to school on Jan. 4, the statement said. Boston Public Library branches are also distributing free test kits.
Parents and guardians of BLS students are asked to keep their children at home if they’ve been exposed to the virus or they are exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms, even if they are minor, according to the statement. Families of students are also advised to limit exposure to individuals outside their home during the winter break.
“I am asking for your help as parents, guardians, and students to make the tough calls as we see a surge in cases across the Commonwealth and country,” Skerritt wrote Wednesday. “I am setting those same expectations for myself and my family, as well as our faculty and staff.”
The increase in cases in schools comes as the omicron variant spreads rapidly and infection numbers continue to soar.
State public health officials on Thursday reported a daily total of 9,042 confirmed coronavirus cases, the highest count in a single day since the pandemic began in March 2020. The state also reported 47 new confirmed coronavirus deaths and 54,483 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered, the Department of Public Health said.