Massachusetts schools are reporting staggering numbers of new COVID cases among students and staff members as Omicron hammers the country.
State education leaders on Thursday reported 38,887 new cases among public school students and 12,213 among staff members for the two-week period that ended Wednesday.
The 51,100 total cases were 40,980 more, or more than 4 times higher, than those reported between Dec. 16 to Dec. 22, before schools started winter break. The high number of cases have led to staffing shortages and increased students absences across the state this week.
Ahead of the start of classes, there had been a push to test more teachers, staff, and students before they would return to school after winter break, as COVID cases are rising in record numbers across the state.
Last weekend, the state distributed 200,000 at-home COVID test kits to teachers and staff members. Staff members were encouraged but not required to take the tests before heading back to work. Some schools also sent students home with rapid tests to take the start and finish of winter break.
About 920,000 students across the state are attending school in person, and about 140,000 staff members are inside school buildings. Districts are prohibited by the state from closing schools to offer remote learning this year in most cases. If school leaders decide to shutter schools, they must make up those days later in the year. From Dec. 23 to Jan. 5, about 4.24 percent of students and 8.72 percent of staff members reported positive cases of the coronavirus to their school leaders.
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.
The official statewide report comes after more than 1,000 staff members at Boston Public Schools, including 461 teachers, were absent earlier this week, most because of the COVID, according to Boston Teachers Union president Jessica Tang. Some districts elected to open later in the week to arrange testing for school community members.
More than 2,200 schools that have signed up to participate in this year’s testing program. It’s not clear how many schools are actively participating in testing programs, but 38,887 have reported testing data from Dec. 20 to Dec. 26.
For Dec. 20 to Dec. 26, 14,491 pooled tests were processed, with a pool positivity rate of 4.09 percent. In the test-and-stay program, which tests students and staff who were close contacts of people who tested positive for the virus, 56,182 tests were conducted, and 55,388 tests came back negative.
For the two-week period that ended Wednesday, the districts that reported the highest number of cases were Boston Public Schools, which reported 555 cases among students and 831 among staff; Worcester Public Schools, which reported 801 cases among students and 337 among staff; and Springfield Public Schools, which reported 738 cases among students and 355 among staff.
Reported cases among students and staff 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 Dec. 5 to Jan. 1, there were 109 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. 19 to Jan. 1, the state reported 8,293 cases among children from birth to age, 8,268 cases among kids ages 5 to 9, 9,388 cases among kids ages 10 to 14, and 12,232 cases among teenagers ages 15 to 19.
Among people under age 20, kids ages 15 to 19 had the highest rate of COVID-19 infection for the two-week period: 2,648.1 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. 19 to Jan. 1, 163 people under age 20 in Massachusetts were hospitalized, and one child in that age group died.
Colleen Cronin can be reached at email@example.com.