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Mass. reports 18,536 new coronavirus cases among public school students and 3,150 among staff

Some students at the Dearborn STEM Academy chose to walked out of school and went home to protest against in-person schooling because of the Omicron-fueled surge in COVID cases.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

COVID cases in the Massachusetts public schools decreased for a third consecutive week, as state education leaders on Thursday reported 18,536 new cases among students and 3,150 among staff members for the week that ended Wednesday.

The 21,686 total cases were 11,223 fewer, or about 34 percent fewer, than those reported last week. Total cases had started decreasing three weeks ago, during the week that began Jan. 6, but this reporting period only marks the second time since early December that both staff and student cases have decreased.

About 920,000 students across the state are attending school in person, and about 140,000 staff members are inside school buildings. From Jan. 20 to Jan. 26, about 2.01 percent of students and 2.25 percent of staff members reported positive cases of the coronavirus to their school leaders.

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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.

Just about 1,000 schools participated during the last academic 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 2,068 have reported testing data for the one-week period that ended Sunday.

For the week that ended Sunday, 49,494 pooled tests were processed, with a pool positivity rate of 9 percent. In the test-and-stay program, which tests students and staff who were close contacts of people who tested positive for the virus, 37,014 tests were conducted, and 35,839, tests came back negative. Some schools are beginning to phase out the test-and-stay program and are instead offering weekly rapid at-home COVID-19 tests to staffers and students as a part of a new state initiative. Tests for the new program began arriving to schools Monday. Families are supposed to report positive cases based on those tests to school districts, which in turn will report them to the state.

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For the week ending Wednesday, the districts that reported the highest number of cases were Boston Public Schools, which reported 667 cases among students and 181 among staff; Springfield Public Schools, which reported 575 cases among students and 123 among staff; and Worcester Public Schools, which reported 578 cases among students and 104 among staff.

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 Dec. 26 to Jan. 22, there were 63 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 Jan. 9 to Jan. 22, the state reported 13,144 cases among children from birth to age 4, 16,114 cases among kids ages 5 to 9, 16,092 cases among kids ages 10 to 14, and 16,486 cases among teenagers ages 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: 4,361.5 people per 100,000.

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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 Jan. 9 to Jan. 22, 223 people under age 20 in Massachusetts were hospitalized, and 2 people in that age group died.


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