Three cases of covid-19 leads to precautionary health-safety measure

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 (Nov. 13, 2020) A third case of covid-19 at Stephen Decatur High School on Seahawk Road in Berlin has led school officials this week to close the school to in-person instruction until Nov. 30.

“We know that news of this transition is likely to heighten anxieties across the school system, but please rest assured that tonight’s decision and all of our protocols we have in place are further evidence that we remain dedicated to keeping our students and staff safe,” Worcester County Public Schools Superintendent Lou Taylor wrote to parents on Tuesday.

The announcement came in the wake of the county school system posting on its website Monday that three positive cases of covid-19 had been confirmed between two schools.

School officials were notified of two positive cases within the same classroom at Stephen Decatur High School. The single classroom switched to distance learning on Tuesday. 

The third positive case at Stephen Decatur High School was outside of the classroom outbreak, Principal Thomas Sites wrote in a letter to parents.

Taylor announced on Wednesday that Worcester Technical on Worcester Highway in Newark also moved to virtual learning until Nov. 30 because of the positive covid cases at Stephen Decatur High School.

“As our technical high school welcomes students from Pocomoke, Snow Hill and Stephen Decatur High Schools, we feel it is best to be proactive with this decision to protect the students in those other communities from exposure,” Taylor told Worcester County Public Schools families and staff. “Moving forward, it will be our practice that should any of our comprehensive high schools close as a result of covid-19, we will also close Worcester Technical High School in tandem.”

In addition, Worcester County Public Schools was made aware on Monday of one positive case of covid-19 in an early childhood classroom at Showell Elementary School.

School systems spokesperson Carrie Sterrs said this classroom also returned to virtual learning as a safety precaution.

Taylor

Lou Taylor

In a letter to the editor published in this week’s paper, Taylor said contact tracing has been expanded to notify “any individuals in the affected cohort of the case.”

“[S]hould we have a case in a classroom, the entire class and if the child rode a bus, those groups would be notified of the case, but the communication will differ based on whether they were a close contact or not,” Taylor wrote. “This process is one that the health department has affirmed as the appropriate way to notify while still respecting the privacy of the ill individual.”

“We as a school system acknowledge and recognize what our health department continues to reiterate: covid-19 is prevalent within our county,” Sterrs said Tuesday. “At the same time, we are operating under the health metrics outlined by the state for local school systems. Worcester County is proud to have enacted strong protocols that have been able to minimize exposure within those spaces we can control.”

She added that when a positive case or covid-19-like illness is reported to the county school system, action is quickly taken to conduct contact tracing and make the appropriate notifications and exclusions.

“As promised in our “Responsible Return” model, we are notifying our entire school system as any decisions are made regarding school status (i.e. open, closed),” Sterrs said. “We are committed to ensuring the safety of all of our students and staff and doing so with fidelity and transparency, while still respecting the right to privacy of our students and staff.”

In response to allegations that Stephen Decatur Middle School was not enforcing temperature screenings, Sterrs said the school has implemented a screening form, which does address temperature.

Students or their guardians are responsible for completing the screening form about covid-19 symptoms every day prior to students entering school buildings.

Sterrs also stressed the importance of families carefully reviewing the screening form as they fill it out each day.

“Their partnership is a critical component to the success of our protocols,” she said.

Earlier this semester, Worcester Preparatory School on South Main Street in Berlin was notified of some positive covid cases. The cases were addressed at the time they occurred, said Diane Brown, the marketing and public relations associate for Worcester Preparatory School.

“We have no positive cases to report, nor do we have anyone quarantining,” said Dr. John McDonald, head of Worcester Preparatory School. “All divisions, pre-k through grade 12, remain open and on campus.”

Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic School on Racetrack Road in Berlin had two positive covid cases among 202 students and 35 staff members as of Wednesday. The individuals are currently asymptomatic.

“Most Blessed Sacrament School continues to provide an in-person instruction to students five days a week,” said Principal Kathleen Manns.

• For more information from Stephen Decatur High School Principal Thomas Sites, visit www.worcesterk12.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_577356/File/District%20Leadership/Responsible%20Return/COVID-19%20Notifications/20201109%20-%20SDHS%20COVID19%20Notification.pdf.

• For more information from Showell Elementary School Principal Diane Shorts, visit www.worcesterk12.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_577356/File/District%20Leadership/Responsible%20Return/COVID-19%20Notifications/20201109%20-%20SES%20COVID.pdf.

• For more information about the covid-19 response protocols, visit www.worcesterk12.org.

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