Testing to be stepped up after COVID spike at Hatfield Elementary School

  • Hatfield Elementary School kindergartners walk toward their outdoor classroom behind the school Oct. 10, 2017. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/14/2021 8:33:57 PM

HATFIELD — Following a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the town’s elementary school, school officials, with assistance from the Massachusetts National Guard, will stage a stepped-up testing program beginning Monday morning and lasting all week.

According to a notice sent to families on Friday by Principal Conor Driscoll, there are currently “many confirmed positive cases across different grade levels, as well as positive pooled test tubes across multiple grade levels at Hatfield Elementary School.”

COVID cases first began cropping up at the school the first week of November, Driscoll said, after which officials notified families of students who may have been in close contact with anyone with a confirmed case of the virus.

Michael Wood, Hatfield’s interim superintendent, said Sunday that it’s not clear what has caused the recent surge in cases. “We can’t point to any particular event. We thought at first it might be Halloween … but we don’t think it’s something” that occurred in school.

The elementary school, since early October, has conducted weekly “pooled testing,” in which up to 10 shallow nasal swab samples are put into a single test tube and collectively examined. The testing, done voluntarily, can then lead to additional testing if any results are positive.

“Anyone who tested positive ... was referred for a PCR test and sent home to follow isolation protocols,” wrote Driscoll, who could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Hatfield schools, like other school districts, also use a state-designed method called “Test and Stay,” which can quickly determine if a person has the virus and is designed to help with contact tracing.

“It’s pretty straightforward,” said Wood. “If it’s negative, you can stay, and if it’s positive, you have to go home and quarantine. It’s another way of trying to be proactive.”

The test-and-stay method will be used all this week, starting at 7:30 a.m., with assistance from National Guard members. Wood said Hatfield schools first reached out late last month for the Guard’s assistance in COVID testing after a private company wasn’t immediately available to help.

Gov. Charlie Baker activated roughly 200 Guard members last month to assist schools across the state in COVID testing.

Wood said there have been some recent COVID cases at Smith Academy as well. He said he “wasn’t comfortable” saying how many students have tested positive at the elementary school, but he did say no staff members in the school district have been forced to quarantine.

Driscoll, in his Friday message, said that there roughly “100 students and 20 staff” at the elementary school who are being asked to participate in the “test and stay” protocol this week, many of whom could have been exposed to the virus based on previous pooled results.

“Having a PCR test done is not a requirement for students in a positive pool to attend school on Monday,” Driscoll added. “However, we would ask that they participate in our test and stay program on Monday.”

Wood said the tests this week will ideally identify any positive COVID cases so that families can be informed.

At the elementary school, officials are taking additional safety steps, including moving desks in classrooms farther apart wherever possible and having lunch and some school activities held outside, weather permitting.

The town does not have a mask mandate in place, but the state requires all public school students to wear masks indoors at school. Hatfield students will also need to wear face masks outside at recess when playing in groups.

Wood said he’s hoping to get more participation in the testing this week, given that the results will be quickly available to families and their students.

“We’ve had really good results [on preventing COVID] so far this year,” he said. “We’re hoping what’s happened recently will be a bump in the road.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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