WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan sent out revised information on Friday about the six confirmed cases of Westfield High School students with coronavirus that were announced Wednesday. Dolan had said Wednesday that WHS would go remote for two weeks, but that the cases were not connected.
On Friday, Dolan released a new letter to the school community saying that she had received more information and that the six WHS cases may be connected — and that a seventh case of a student with the virus had been reported.
None of the district’s other nine public schools are being affected by the two-week closure.
Dolan wrote in a letter Friday evening, “On Wednesday, based on initial reports provided to the Westfield Regional Health Department, the cases of six high school students who were exposed outside of school and tested positive for covid-19 appeared not to be linked. By yesterday afternoon, following additional information provided by the parents of these students, it was determined that these cases may be related and that another student has also tested positive.”
She added, “Additionally, more than 30 other Westfield High School students are quarantining at home after self-reporting to the school that they had direct exposure with someone who was covid positive.”
She noted, “Again, exposure in all of these instances occurred outside of Westfield High School and the families with positive covid cases have proactively quarantined the students and their siblings at home.”
The two-week closure was announced on the fifth day of school.
Westfield coronavirus trends
Also on Friday, Mayor Shelley Brindle released updated coronavirus numbers.
Brindle said Westfield had reported two new cases since Tuesday (one on Wednesday and one on Friday), bringing the total of residents diagnosed with the virus to 385 since the first reported case in March.
Three nights earlier, on Tuesday, Brindle had said that the town had received a report of 11 new coronavirus cases since a week earlier, bringing the town’s total to 383 since the pandemic began. She’d said, “Our case numbers have ticked up, which was fully expected as things reopened, but it is imperative that the number of new cases stays manageable.”
The total fatalities in town remain at 43, with the most recent death announced on June 3.
Breakdown for past week
For the eight cases reported in the official case count from Sept. 11 to 17, Brindle said, the Board of Health gave the following breakdown:
Two were unable to be reached (did not return the call)
Two were household contacts of a positive case
One had no known exposure
One had known exposure related to Westfield High School, but did not attend WHS
One was from WHS
One was an out-of-state college student
In terms of age breakdown:
Brindle noted, “Once again, please keep in mind that the details of each case are not always readily available, and the numbers will not always reconcile because of the disparities in the reporting systems.”
The following is the superintendent’s letter on Friday:
September 18, 2020
Dear Westfield School Community,
I want to provide you with an update following my decision to move Westfield High School to virtual instruction and to suspend athletics and other extracurricular activities for 14 days.
On Wednesday, based on initial reports provided to the Westfield Regional Health Department, the cases of 6 high school students who were exposed outside of school and tested positive for COVID-19 appeared not to be linked. By yesterday afternoon, following additional information provided by the parents of these students, it was determined that these cases may be related and that another student has also tested positive. Additionally, more than 30 other Westfield High School students are quarantining at home after self-reporting to the school that they had direct exposure with someone who was COVID positive.
Again, exposure in all of these instances occurred outside of Westfield High School and the families with positive COVID cases have proactively quarantined the students and their siblings at home. However, because of this evidence of community spread, the Department of Health guidelines call for a school to close for 14 days. This decision was made, and reviewed again today, by both local and state public health officials.
Let me be clear: This is not meant to shame anyone in our community. And it is not about students versus student-athletes and whether athletics should continue even as the high school remains on an all-remote learning schedule for two weeks. COVID has touched our students both on and off the field.
It is about the fluidity of the situation and the need for timely and truthful reporting to our public health officials if you or a family member tests positive or suspects that you have been exposed. It is about trusting your school and public health officials to make decisions that are in the best interest of students and staff, even when the reasons may not be immediately clear to you.
We want to keep our schools open. As Ms. Avallone has said, our schools are one of the safest places for our students due to health and safety protocols that include required masks, socially distanced classrooms and hallways, a daily health questionnaire for both students and staff, staggered start and dismissal times, increased sanitizing and disinfecting, and many more.
Whether we are able to remain open in a sustainable way is dependent on the choices we all make when we are away from school. I understand the desire to socialize, especially among our students, during this isolating and unsettling period in our lives.
However, we must do so safely and responsibly. The choices we make have a very real impact on whether our schools can remain open and sports and activities can resume. As health officials have stated many times, please socialize outside, wear a mask and stay six feet apart.
Do not share food or utensils and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently. And, if you have any COVID symptoms, please stay home and contact local public health officials immediately.
I have said it before. We must stand united to beat this virus. Only then will we be able to return to the normalcy we all crave.
Sincerely, Dr. Dolan
In related news:
On Thursday, a Westfield parent, whose son is a junior at WHS and plays football, said he and other parents of student athletes are requesting a special board meeting to discuss the closures. He has written a letter asking for a special Board of Education meeting in advance of the scheduled next meeting on Oct. 6. He said that he doesn’t see the need for all WHS sports programs to stop while students learn remotely. He said parents of football team members have offered to let their kids attend fully remote from now on, instead of in the hybrid format, so that they can maintain a consistent team schedule.
The school’s announcement Wednesday came the day after Mayor Shelley Brindle said there had been an uptick in cases in town. READ MORE: Westfield Mayor: Coronavirus Cases ‘Ticked Up’
Westfield students had started school the previous Thursday. Wednesday was an all-virtual day for the students as part of the district’s hybrid learning model.
In nearby Summit, approximately half of the September resident coronavirus cases were students away at college.
Here are some other recent Westfield coronavirus and reopening updates:
The Westfield schools reopened this past Thursday. See photos here.
Here is Superintendent Margaret Dolan’s last letter before the reopenings, including a link to a video tour of the classrooms and safety measures.
HOW TO GET TESTED: WALK-UP SITES
The new schedule of free drive-through testing at Kean University begins Monday.
The Union County Mobile Test Unit also will continue visiting local communities to provide free walk-up tests.The drive-through will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays. The Drive-Through Test Center is available by appointment to all Union County residents, and to first responders and front line medical workers regardless of their residence. To book an appointment at the Drive-Through Test Center online, visit ucnj.org. Please note that a car is required to use this service. If additional assistance is needed, call 908-214-7107.
Union County has added mobile walk up test sites in addition to the testing site located at Kean University. Testing is free for Union County residents and is by appointment only with no car required; participants must wear masks and observe social distance. Any Union County resident can make an appointment for a test, whether they have symptoms. To pick a location, date and time, and to make an appointment online, visit ucnj.org/coronavirus-update/walk-up.
Union County residents who need to make an appointment by phone can call 908-518-4307 for assistance. Non-profit organizations and other community groups can call the Union County Office of Emergency Management at 908-654-9881 to request a visit from the Mobile Test Unit.
Tickets for the Westfield 300 Summer Movie Series are free but require advance registration here.
Read about updated Quimby Street events, rules, and street closings here.
Indoor dining is allowed at 25 percent capacity. For a list of rules, click here.
To read about outdoor dining in Westfield, click here.
Gov. Murphy recently signed an executive order allowing gyms, health clubs, and indoor amusement facilities to reopen at 25 percent capacity effective Sept. 1. Equipment must be adjusted to allow a minimum of six feet of distance, and must be sanitized between uses. Everyone must wear masks. More details can be found here.
HOW TO GET HELP WITH HEAT, RENT, AND MORE
During the State of Emergency in New Jersey, no tenant is permitted to be evicted from their home or apartment for the inability to pay rent. Talk to your local mayor’s office if you are experiencing difficulties.
The CARES act has made money available to help with rent in each city. More information is here.
New Jersey residents can get help with heating and energy bills. Information is here.
Various other avenues of relief and benefits have also been made available, including family leave for 12 weeks if you can’t work due to your child’s school or camp being closed, and changes to unemployment rules to help those who were at a job for a short time, or freelancing.
Right now, there are 159 long term care facilities with active outbreaks, the state Department of Health said on Wednesday. The state also announced that deaths at the facilities had more than doubled since May 1. The state announced it will make some long-term changes for the facilities.
New Jersey residents have become alarmed at the high number of residents who have passed away in nursing homes, rehabs, and similar facilities. The state announced plans in May to increase testing at some long term care facilities and to bring in the National Guard to help make changes.
The state released death toll statistics for long-term care facilities like rehabs and nursing homes. See the list here.
You can report problems with long term care facilities here, or if you suspect coronavirus related misconduct, here.
Some New Jersey long-term care facilities reopened for limited visits, with precautions, in July.
Other states have been dealing with nursing home deaths more recently, including a recent outbreak in a Texas nursing home.
Here are statewide coronavirus resources:
NJ COVID-19 Information Hub: https://covid19.nj.gov/
General COVID-19 questions: 2-1-1
NJ COVID-19 hotline: (800) 222-1222
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This article originally appeared on the Westfield Patch