I was surprised and delighted this past Thursday afternoon when, in an administrative team meeting, I exclaimed that PA had identified no new “active community cases” at that point during the week. I added that if the situation held until Monday (today), we’d have zero active cases in the school! Colleagues joked, “Dr. Flanders, don’t jinx it!”
Apparently I “jinxed it.” By the weekend we had five new community cases, all in the Upper School, from three different households. Close-contact quarantining has sent a large swath of Upper-School students home for SimulClassroom.
Our experience at PA with COVID-19 is developing, as in the broader community beyond our walls. It’s not surprising that as cases rise in Plymouth and the Cities, so are cases at school. Last Friday our Middle and Upper Schools piloted our “In-School Hybrid” learning model, largely the “Plan B” model we unveiled in early August. We were preparing for a situation in which minimizing quarantining would become increasingly beneficial to families, while continuing to provide 5-day-a-week access to school for students. Two weeks ago I wrote that while we weren’t articulating an absolute threshold for changing learning models, a rise in community cases causing very large numbers of quarantines would be a possible trigger. Now with 5 new student cases in one Division, and the consequent large-scale quarantining, we will move to the “In-School Hybrid” model in Middle and Upper Schools after Thanksgiving until Christmas break.
We will continue our current all-in-classroom model in the Lower School, as each classroom is self-contained and quarantine numbers are generally confined to participants in a classroom cohort. Younger children appear to contract COVID-19 in lesser numbers, and our experience to date bears this out. Thus far, three Lower School classrooms have quarantined due to a confirmed case, representing 15 percent of the Lower School community.
Key points of the In-School Hybrid model for Middle and Upper Schools are:
- Close-contact quarantining of students who are diagnosed with COVID-19 will likely drop more than 80 percent, based on peer-school experience.
- All students will be spaced in classrooms at least 6 feet apart (PA has been follow ing guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending 3-6 feet separation, which has enabled us to operate with full classrooms).
- A portion of students, on a rotating basis, will join their class via SimulClassroom in an alternate space at PA (e.g. the Great Room, Performing Arts Center lobby, Multi-Purpose Room, Atrium).
- All students will be able to attend some (often most) classes in-person each day.
- All students will have lunch, “white period” activities, and Mass as usual, thus experiencing routine interactions daily.
A collateral advantage of moving to this model between next Monday and Christmas break is the significant likely reduction of community-member quarantining during any portion of the Christmas holidays.
Here are some additional “fast facts” about PA’s ongoing experience with COVID-19, followed by some closing reflections:
- Now into the 13th week of school, we have had a total of 19 active community cases. Community members needing to quarantine at home as close contacts now total 337, representing about a third of our community, spread out over the past 8 weeks. The quarantines range from 3 to 10 school days, averaging 5-7.
- We know of 4 community cases likely contracted from being a “close contact” of an infected community member at school or a school-related function. Put differently, it is likely that 1.2 percent of community “close contacts” have gotten the virus.
- Community members who have tested positive have reported symptoms ranging from asymptomatic to cold and flu-like symptoms. There have been no hospitalizations among community cases and, so far as we know, no hospitalizations for COVID among PA households.
I was heartened last week to hear CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield say the following: “Last spring the CDC did not recommend school closures, nor do we recommend their closures today. I will say back in the spring there was limited data. Today there is extensive data that we have gathered over the last two to three months to confirm that K-12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning and they can do it safely and they can do it responsibly…. The truth is for kids K-12 one of the safest places they can be from our perspective is to remain in school.” That is certainly our experience at PA.
PA is shifting Middle and Upper School learning models after Thanksgiving not because there is a health crisis at PA, or because PA is a virus super-spreader. There is not, and PA is not. We are shifting learning models during this period of rise in community cases inside and outside of our walls in order to mitigate COVID-related impacts on our ability to be together here 5 days a week.