With COVID-19 cases in Everett on the rise in many categories – including for children ages 0-19 – Supt. Priya Tahiliani strongly recommended the schools remain in the current remote learning setup until the numbers can come down, a suggestion everyone on the School Committee backed up Monday night.
The schools had set a phased-in plan to go to a hybrid in-person model for those students choosing to do so on Nov. 16. However, with a rolling average of 24 cases per day in the city, according to the Public Health Department, the numbers of cases and the transmission rates seem to be going the wrong way to convene school in person, she said.
“The numbers do not support a genuine return to in-person teaching,” she said. “The numbers we are seeing are pointing towards cases going down on any given day, let alone over two or three weeks…It’s our strong recommendation we stay remote.”
The recommendation to the School Committee came with the help of the Everett Public Schools COVID Task Force. That is made up of the following people:
•Hannah Galvin, MD, Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA)
•Christian Lanphere, Emergency Department (CHA)
•Alan Geller, MPH, RN, Harvard School of Public Health
•Ann Fitzgerald, LCSW, Eliot Community Human Services
•Gregory Hagan, MD, CHA
•Sabrina Firicano, MD, Everett Board of Health
That Task Force reported to the superintendent that with Everett having some of the highest positivity rates in the state, it probably wasn’t safe for a hybrid in-person return on Nov. 16. A key metric was the numbers of cases in Everett among kids 0-19, which has gone from 15 in July to 42 in October – an incremental climb that is close to the surge numbers in April that reached 55.
One of the concerns, Tahiliani said, was lunch rooms and cafeterias, where there have been outbreaks and clusters of cases cited in Boston and other areas.
“They believe transmission is increasing because of people gathering in restaurants and other large establishments,” she said. “They talked about the clusters in Boston that have traced back to breakrooms at work places. That leads us to think about our own cafeterias.”
A recommendation, though, that would break the monotony of remote learning is to somehow carve out times for in-person clubs, activities and social-emotional days in smaller groups safely at the schools – while also doing everything possible to keep high-needs students in the schools to get services.
“I don’t think we’re quite ready to go to full-scale hybrid,” said Member Millie Cardillo. “I’d love to say we were, but it’s not ready.”
Member Marcony Almeida Barros said he would like to see some in-person activities, as he knows parents are struggling – as are many kids – with fully remote learning.
“For me, I agree we can’t bring back thousands of kids now, plus our staff,” he said. “At the same time, one thing I could suggest is I want to think about parents. Parents comment all the time that this is just too much.”
Tahiliani said they are working with their coaches, club sponsors and counselors to put together learning opportunities through the winter to help kids be able to have some human contact in person while remaining remote in their teaching. That is all being investigated.
One key point, however, is to try to give a timeline to parents about a decision.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who was in attendance as an ex-officio, said he thought they should give a date to revisit the matter so parents have something to look towards. The School Committee will have some decision on that by the end of the week, which they will report out to the public – though they said it was hard to make any decisions based on the increase in cases now. Most likely, many said, there would be no realistic revisiting of the issue until cases can come under control.
Member Allan Panarese – who is a respiratory therapist at CHA Everett – said he works on COVID-19 patients 80 percent of the time and has for months. He warned to be cautious and to respect COVID-19, as it is serious and will kill you.
“If you saw what this disease does to people, we have to be careful,” he implored. “It does kill people. I don’t want to see any kids or educators get this. I think people are taking it a bit too lightly…I think we should look at our plan month by month. We have to give this time and be safe…We need to be cautious. What I’ve seen is not pretty. I don’t want to see anyone get it…The numbers are accurate and aren’t inflated. It’s real.”