Wellesley Public Schools administrators tightened COVID-19 protocols again Friday after an outbreak among the cast and crew of a middle school musical performed last weekend contributed to a surge in cases.
As of Friday, 44 new cases had been reported among middle school students and staff since March 19, more than 60 percent of the 72 infections reported in the Wellesley schools in that time period, according to the district’s COVID-19 data dashboard.
Of those cases, 28 were among middle school students who participated in last weekend’s three-performance run of “Frozen Jr.,” which ran from March 17 to March 19, Superintendent David Lussier said.
Some 88 percent of Wellesley Middle School students are vaccinated.
“I’m not sure we know exactly why yet, but we have seen an acute increase at Wellesley Middle School,” Lussier said. “The show definitely does not account for all of the cases, but it’s a big cast. When a lot of kids participate [and] there is an increase at the school, it’s not surprising.”
To stem the surge, which Lussier said has slowed after 30 cases were reported on Monday, the district is requiring audience members at two high school choir concerts this weekend to wear masks. Performers and crew members will be required to wear masks backstage, as was the case at the “Frozen Jr.” shows. Middle school students will temporarily be divided into two separate groups for lunch until cases subside.
The outbreak seems to indicate that, while mask and testing protocols have eased, the virus is still circulating and sometimes spreading unpredictably.
Two weekends ago, Wellesley High School put on a musical to a “huge audience,” Lussier said, from which no new cases were identified.
“Is there a perfect solution? No,” Lussier said. “This is all part and parcel of shifting from a pandemic to an endemic, where these are the things we’re going to have to figure out how to coexist with.”
As of Thursday, when the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reports weekly COVID-19 data for school districts, Wellesley had the second-highest number of cases among students and staff statewide, trailing only Brookline.
Some cases in the school district may not be accounted for. The state supplies rapid tests to districts so that students can test weekly at home, but Wellesley schools, like many districts, no longer has a mandated contact tracing program. The district provides PCR tests for symptomatic students and staff.
The majority of students infected this week have had mild symptoms, Lussier said. But some parents are calling for stricter safety measures.
One parent, the mother of a sixth grader who was not in the musical, said Friday that she and her husband tested positive for COVID-19 early this week and were both symptomatic. She believes her daughter, who also tested positive, brought the virus home from school. The parent, who requested she not be identified for fear of retribution in the community, said the district is not doing enough to limit large gatherings.
“I know other parents have a different opinion, but to me, this is unbelievable,” she said. “It’s more than just the students who are at risk here.”