In states where Covid cases are again on the rise, schools weigh safety measures, closures

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"We’ll continue to see additional increases unless there’s a very big difference in the amount of protection that individual people are taking," one local official said.

In states where coronavirus cases are once again on the rise, local officials and schools are considering taking additional precautions to limit outbreaks in classrooms, including again urging people to wear masks and, in some cases, closing.

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In Los Angeles County, the number of cases reported among students in youth sports, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools “more than quadrupled between March 27 and April 24,” Barbara Ferrer, the county public health director, said Wednesday in a news conference. Masking requirements in schools were lifted on March 12.

“There are now nearly as many cases among students and staff as there were in mid-February,” she said.

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Ferrer said her office is encouraging schools to require indoor masking at events where there are going to be a large number of students and others gathered; to test and screen students for symptoms before and after events; and to improve ventilation at indoor locations and on transportation.

“We do encourage schools, families and students to adopt measures that reduce the chance for spread at these school-affiliated events,” she said.

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Covid cases have climbed in some areas following Easter and spring break. Ferrer said some schools events like dances and field trips have also led to an increase in cases.

“And with lots of end-of-the-year events happening, we’ll continue to see additional increases unless there’s a very big difference in the amount of protection that individual people are taking,” Ferrer said.

Hospitalizations have also been on the rise in many parts of the country over the last two weeks. However, under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current masking guidance, which considers available hospital beds and Covid hospitalization rates, most of the country is at a medium or low community risk for the coronavirus.

In Maine, however, eight schools reported outbreaks last week, with 1,000 total reported cases as of last Thursday, according to the state Department of Education.

One of the schools, Rumford Elementary, was shut down for three days this week after 29 students and 16 staff members tested positive, the school’s principal Jill Bartash said in a statement posted on social media Wednesday. 

In a previous statement on Monday, Bartash said the outbreak was “by far the highest number of sick staff and students” the school has had during the pandemic. The school said that in response custodians would be cleaning surfaces, there would be increased vigilance on hand washing, masks would be available to children and testing kits would be sent home.

Also in Maine, the Brooklin School, which has students from pre-K through eighth grade, transitioned to remote learning this week from Tuesday through Friday after about 30 percent of the school was out on Monday “with Covid symptoms, or on Covid protocols,” Mark Hurvitt, the School Union 76 interim superintendent, said in a statement.

“I realize that this is a real hassle for everybody, especially since I thought we were kind of out of the woods with Covid, but apparently not!” he said.

Covid school closures have become a divisive topic since the pandemic upended American education, shoving millions of students into a school year of remote learning. Critics of such closures have said students can suffer mental health issues and learning loss from being out of school.

One study released this month by Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research, using testing data from more than 2 million students across the country, found that achievement growth was particularly low for students attending high-poverty schools in districts that went remote.

In Connecticut, Enfield Public Schools Superintendent Christopher Drezek was apologetic as he announced the closure of Henry Barnard School.

“Please understand this is the last message I wanted to send to you because I realize the impact this has on families, as well as students,” Drezek said in a statement on the school website.

In-person classes were canceled at Henry Barnard on Thursday and Friday after a “rapid increase of Covid cases” among staff members. Forty of the school’s 75 staff members were out of school due to the coronavirus, Drezek said in the statement.

“Although we have tried to cover the building with staff members from other schools, we have reached a point where we simply cannot provide adequate adult supervision to safely open for in-person learning,” he said. 

In New Jersey, local media reported that because of an increase in cases, a masking requirement was reinstated at Montclair High School for 10 days starting May 4. And in Pennsylvania, Woodland Hills High School also reinstated a mask requirement through May 13, according to local media.

Last month, nearly 100 students from San Mateo High School in California who attended a high school prom tested positive for Covid.

Wearing masks was strongly recommended at the prom on April 9, but many students chose not to wear them, a spokesperson for the San Mateo Union High School District told The Associated Press.

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