As Omicron Waxes and Wanes, Belmont Schools Adjusts Covid Standards To Meet State, CDC Changes

Photo: The FAQ page on the Belmont Public Schools’ website

As Belmont continues to see Covid-19 positive cases reach record numbers in the past week, the Belmont School District has adjusted the best practices in its attempt to mitigate the virus’ opportunity to spread through the six public school buildings in town.

At its Tuesday, Jan. 18 meeting, the School Committee heard from Belmont Superintendent John Phelan who came with a few changes from the proposed guidelines presented the week previous after the state made changes to its priorities on keeping schools open during the recent surge in Covid cases.

“We are dedicated to keep schools open for students and in person learning. I think we weathered the first two weeks for winter break relatively well … but not past [the Omicron surge] yet,” said Phelan, who added that staff and student attendance has reached 90 percent, a marked improvement in the past fortnight.

What parents and students can do in school and at home to dampen the spread of Covid-19

But Belmont continues to show unpresidential numbers of new cases: 759 in the fortnight ending Jan. 14, a 15 percent positivity rate of those tested. In the schools, the numbers are also daunting with 127 positive Covid cases effecting both teachers and students in the six schools “community as of the week ending Jan. 19. That is down from Jan. 3 number of 229 which was the first reporting date after the winter holiday break.

With cases expecat high levels to last for the next few weeks, Phelan said the school committee should codify much of what was discussed on Jan. 11.

School Committee discussed this updated guidance and approved the following for students and staff who test positive for Covid-19:

  • Fully vaccinated students and staff may return to school on day six after a five-day isolation period, as long as they have been fever-free for 24 hours and experienced improvement in other symptoms. They must mask when around others for the five days following their isolation period, according to Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidelines. Fully vaccinated is two weeks after receiving the second dose of Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine or two weeks after the single dose of Johnson & Johnson. A booster shot is not required to be considered fully vaccinated.
  • All unvaccinated and partially vaccinated students and staff may return to school on day 11 after a 10-day isolation period. Students in K-8 will be provided tutoring due to their quarantined and or isolation status.
  • Students and staff will not be required to have a negative COVID test after their isolation period to return to classes.

One of the changes from the Jan. 11 recommendations was the committee exploring purchasing in conjunction with the town antigen tests as a screening tool for students who have tested positive after their five-day isolation period has expired. Phelan said that is likely “a moot point” as the state and federal governments are committed to providing tests to local school districts.

“So we’ll keep that motion at heart and we will continue to keep that in mind,” said Phelan, who called the initiative “great news … to have every staff and student who wants to take part to be able to take home their own test and test at home weekly.”

He also pointed to an extensive Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page sent to parents and guardians and on the district’s Covid webpage with questions ranging from what is the best way to screen children for Covid and when can students return to school.

The school committee on Jan. 11 asked its policy subcommittee to develop a vaccine mandate policy to be completed and voted on no later than June.

Covid Vaccine, Booster Shots At Belmont High On Wednesday; Register Now

Photo: Get on the bus (Credit: mass.gov)

The Belmont Health Department is offering COVID-19 vaccines, including 1st, 2nd, and booster shots at the Mass Department of Public Health’s Mobile Vaccine clinic on Wednesday Jan. 12 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Belmont High School, 221 Concord Ave.

Register here for the clinic: https://home.color.com/vaccine/register/purpleshield?calendar=8d672bef-8ff4-464c-8fa1-524b3904a1f8

Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be available for all eligible ages for 1st, 2nd or booster doses.

  • Individuals 5-11 can sign up to receive their first or second dose of the pediatric Pfizer vaccine
  • Individuals 12+ can sign up to receive their 1st, 2nd, or booster* dose of the Pfizer vaccine
  • Individuals 18+ can also sign up to receive either 1st, 2nd, or booster* dose of the Moderna vaccine

Boosters are available to anyone as long as it has been more than six months since their second dose of the Moderna vaccine, five or more months since their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, or two or more months if they received the Johnson&Johnson vaccine

This clinic will be operated through a partnership between and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) Mobile Vaccine Program, Belmont Public Schools and the Belmont Health Department.

Phelan: District At ‘Breaking Point’ As Covid Cases Skyrocket In Belmont Schools

Photo: Belmont Superintendent John Phelan

A snow day this past Friday couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the Belmont District Schools.

As the Omicron variant of the Covid coronavirus sweeps through Belmont schools after students returned from the winter recess, absentees among educators and staff has placed the district close to a breaking point whether there’s enough teachers in each building.

The numbers say it all.

In the final week of 2021, 16 Belmont students, educators and staff reported being infected with a new case of COVID-19. A week later, on Jan. 5, that tally exploded to 228 novel positive cases across the district’s six schools.

New Covid positive cases
(students, staff, teachers)
Week endingnumber
01/05/2022228
12/29/202116
12/08/20214
11/17/20216

“The impact of the staff attendance and staffing levels is a real concern of the district,” Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan told the School Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 4 as 72 and 73 staff members were out on Monday and Tuesday respectively. And while praising substitute teachers and district employees for stepping up and filling in, Phelan told the committee the current patchwork approach for cover classrooms “is not sustainable.”

On Monday, Jan. 3, a staggering 605 district students (out of a total of approximately 4,600) were not in class while Tuesday showed an improvement where 473 were out due to Covid, traveling and those waiting for results of Covid tests. The usual number out on an average week is about 275. This is occurring in a system that has impressive numbers of vaccinated students. (See chart below)

“We believe that that we haven’t seen the worst of this phase of the virus at this point in time,” said Phelan, with the next weeks seeing staff and families make some “truly hard choices” related to going to school. Friday’s snow storm was a blessing for many teachers and family as it provided an extra day away from the classroom and added a day towards a quarantine total.

Phelan and his leadership team calculated teacher attendance would hover just below 90 percent which posed significant challenges requiring the district to set up a educational “triage” system to allow school to open on the first Monday of the new year.

On Sunday, teachers and staff came to Belmont to receive take home tests while on Monday the start of schools were delayed by one hour so teachers could receive KN95 masks, “ensure that we had time for our educators to get together, our principals with teachers and other administrators to support the setting up of the school day.”

Staff, central office personnel and other non-educators were redeployed and placed in classrooms to support teachers. The district also doubled its rate for substitute teachers while proactively recruiting to ensure it has sufficient numbers to place before students arrived on Monday

But even with adults in the classroom, Phelan said certain aspects of the school day have been lost such as small group instruction and parts of the traditional school day schedule that teachers can best perform effectively.

The challenge of lunch

Phelan also pointed to student lunch time as “one of the largest challenges moving forward.” With the large tents at the elementary and Chenery schools allowing for an outside option taken down for the winter, Phelan said he is attempting to balance Covid safety with feeding students. That will require keeping masked in the cafeteria, assigned seating, shortening lunch times by sending students to recess early, keep talking to a minimum and keeping their distance.

Sports and extracurriculars will soon see restrictions on the number of who can attend contests, restrictions on using locker rooms and a greater emphasize on proper mask wearing during play. This comes after a growing number of student/athletes and at least two sporting events were cancelled due to Covid outbreaks.

Phelan has been in discussion with his fellow area superintendents on possible changes to the schedule or length of the school day for elementary, middle and high schools as a way of keeping them safe from spread while providing adequate education.

“We want to keep our options open,” Phelan told the committee. Moving forward, the district will be keeping an eagle eye on in-school transmission rates, new positive cases in the community and keep appropriate staffing levels to allow schooling to take place.

While more parents and guardians are calling for the district and committee to consider the role of remote learning during this surge, Belmont – along with school districts statewide – finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Districts are prohibited by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to return to full-time remote learning. And while DESE has established a protocol for when a school or entire district can seek permission to re-impose virtual learning, it has been done only in “a very few cases,” in the past months, said Phelan.

“{DESE) is keeping a very tight rein on [granting waivers],” he said.

Please Remember

When asked by the Belmontonian if the district has set a benchmark of when it would be prudent to close schools due to staff shortages, Phelan said there was no set percentage.

“We will assess our staffing levels daily to determine our coverage models. This looks different at each level. We need to assure that all students are engaged and properly supervised,” he said.

If a school or district simply must close due to staffing shortages, Phelan said DESE has informed districts they will need to use a “snow day” with the requirement it is made up at the end of the school year.

The district’s actions this week are at best a stop gap until the pandemic peters out which health experts said will not happen soon enough. All this is being played out as the district is facing ever “shifting guidance” from state and federal agencies on Covid safety.

Phelan told the committee the recommendations from the CDC and DPH are, at best, “inconsistent” such as the CDC requiring 10 days out of class and DESE five; no requirement for testing to return that many parents and school administrators find and DESE and CDC not on the same page on contract tracing (Belmont has abandoned it due to staffing issues).

The district will also step up its promote parents to sign up their students for pool testing, which “is more important now than ever for us to get a very clear picture through pool testing mechanism … for this upcoming year,” said Phelan.

While it has a plan in place to continue in-school education, Phelan said the new reality of variants and their impact will remain with the district when this current surge subsides.

“This is only one step in a long journey,” said Phelan.

Belmont Records First Covid Death In 9 Months As Positive Cases Spike

Photo: The latest update of Covid in Belmont

A resident died two week ago due to the Covid-19 virus, the first Belmont victim since March, as the number of positive cases in town and across the nation are approaching all-time highs over the holiday season.

The death occurred during the week of Dec. 10-17, the first fatality linked to the coronavirus since March 19 when two Belmontians succumbed to the virus.

The deaths comes as the number of positive Covid cases have skyrocketed to near record numbers not seen since the worst days of the pandemic in January 2021. Belmont recorded 106 new positive cases in the week ending on Dec. 24, up from 61 in the pervious week. There has been 1,741 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Belmont since the first cases in the pandemic were reported in March 2020. Currently, Belmont and Middlesex County remains at “high risk” for the spread of Covid according to guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I wish I could say we’re in a better place but we continue to in the wrong direction like much of the states,” said Wesley Chin, Belmont’s Health director, pointing to the Omicron variant of Covid-19 which is sweeping across the country. The Washington Post reported top US health officials warned that the country “will probably see record numbers” of cases as the new variant “spreads rapidly.”

Of the new cases in Belmont, 57 percent are breakthrough which is an infection that occurs to a fully vaccinated person, said Chin. A further 8 percent of those infected involve those who have received a booster, or third, shot.

The one piece of good news during this surge is that hospitalizations of those infected is quite low. “This month we’ve learned of two hospitalizations,” said Chin, with most people being able to be treated at home with mild to moderate symptoms.

“The takeaway message is it seems like the booster shots are helping, so we want to encourage people to get their … shots,” said Chin.

The Health Department is holding a “booster” clinic on Tuesday, Dec. 28 at Beth El Temple Center geared for students between 16 and 17 years old who are now eligible for the shot.

Vaccine Clinic/Booster Shots For Students, Young Adults on Dec. 28; Covid Surge Testing Jan. 8-9

Photo: Belmont will be providing booster shots and testing in the coming weeks for the youngest residents in town. (credit: Spencerbdavis, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0)

“Booster shots help,” said Adam Dash, chair of the Belmont Select Board at its Monday, Dec. 20 meeting. And along with Covid testing can mitigate the surge of the coronavirus’ Omicron variant.

But as Dash noted, “Getting the booster shot has been difficult” as people clamber for the chance to get their third dose of the vaccine. As for testing, home Covid kits have all but sold out in most stores while state health officials said daily testing sites have handled between 75,000 to 135,00 people for the past week with waits typically running two hours and more. The line at a free testing site in the Cambridgeside Galleria in Cambridge extended up and around the three mezzanine levels.

So here is some welcome news: Belmont will be providing booster shots and testing in the coming weeks for some of the youngest town residents.

The Health Department is holding a pediatric vaccine clinic on Tuesday, Dec. 28 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Beth El Temple Center at 2 Concord Ave. “This clinic is going to be geared primarily towards 16- and 17-year-old who are recently eligible for booster shots,” said Wesley Chin, Belmont’s health director.

  • Individuals 5-11 can sign up to receive their first or second dose of the pediatric Pfizer vaccine
  • Individuals 12+ can sign up to receive their first or second dose of the adult Pfizer vaccine, or Moderna if they are 18+
  • Individuals 16-17 can also sign up to receive a Pfizer booster shot*
  • Individuals 18+ can also sign up to receive either a Pfizer or Moderna booster shot*

Register for a vaccine appointment here: https://www.appointmentquest.com/scheduler/2180061935?schedule=belmontvaccineclinic

For the second time after a holiday, Belmont and Lexington will be holding joint Covid testing clinics for their residents.

The testing in Belmont will be held on Jan. 8 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Chenery Middle School; Lexington will hold its on Jan. 9 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lexington public school administration building gymnasium, 146 Maple St. Residents of either town can

Call the Health Department with any questions at 617-993-2720.

Booster Monday At Beth El: Free Covid-19 Shots From 4 PM to 7 PM

Photo: Getting your card filled with a booster shot

The Belmont Health Department is offering a limited number of Moderna Covid-19 booster shots to eligible residents 18 and up. Massachusetts has expanded the eligibility criteria for booster shots, and the new criteria can be found below.

Belmont’s booster dose clinic will be held on Monday Dec. 13 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Beth El Temple Center, 2 Concord Ave.

Register for a booster dose appointment here:
https://home.color.com/vaccine/register/belmont
If you have difficulty with registration, call 617-993-2720 or email Lsharp@belmont-ma.gov for assistance.

Please present insurance cards, photo ID, and vaccination cards at appointment.

  • If you are 18+, and received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, you can get a booster dose once two months have passed since your original dose.
  • If you are 18+, and received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, you can get a booster dose once six months have passed since your second dose.

*Booster shots can be any of the approved COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of your original dose; at this clinic the Moderna vaccine will be provided.

Post-Thanksgiving Covid Testing in Belmont/Lexington on Dec. 4-5: Register Now

Photo: Covid testing will be held in Belmont and Lexington this week

In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, Belmont is partnering with Lexington to offer free COVID-19 PCR testing following Thanksgiving. There will be two upcoming testing events, and both are open to residents of Belmont and Lexington, regardless of the testing location.

Testing for the virus remains one of the most important tools we have to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19. Celebrate safely with your loved ones this holiday season and take advantage of this free testing service for residents.

You must have an appointment to be tested. Proof of residency is required. Testing is available for anyone who has reached their first birthday.

The dates and locations are:

  • Saturday, Dec. 4 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
    Chenery Middle School, 95 Washington St., Belmont (indoor testing)
    Limited walk-ins may be accepted 9 a.m. – 11 a.m., appointments strongly recommended.
  • Sunday, Dec. 5 from noon to 5 p.m.
    173 Bedford St., Lexington (drive-through testing—remain in your car)
    No walk-ins will be accepted at the Lexington event.

Register for a COVID-19 test on either Dec. 4 or Dec. 5 here:
Registration Link

PhysicianOne Urgent Care will be providing the testing.  Please note: You will need to set up an account on their website through the highlighted link below to register for a COVID-19 test, and to view your test results.

Further Info and Tips:

PhysicianOne Urgent Care uses the Project Beacon online platform for account registration and test scheduling. If you have any issues with registration or scheduling, please contact Project Beacon by email at help@beacontesting.com, or call 617-741-7310, Mon.-Fri. from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Register Now! Town Sponsored Covid-19 Vaccinations For Kids, 5-11, Set For Friday, Nov. 12 At Beth El Temple

Photo: Pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be distributed at the clinic on Nov. 12 (credit: Pfizer)

The Belmont Health Department is sponsoring Belmont’s first pediatric vaccination clinic on Friday, Nov. 12 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Beth El Temple Center, 2 Concord Ave. The follow-up second dose clinic will be held on Friday, Dec.
3.

This age group was authorized by the CDC on Tuesday, Nov. 2 to receive the pediatric dosage of Pfizer vaccine, in the two-dose timeline 21 days apart.

Please register for an appointment at the link below:
https://www.appointmentquest.com/scheduler/2180061935?schedule=belmontvaccineclinic

This clinic is specifically for Belmont residents and students who attend school in Belmont. If you register and are not a part of one of those groups, your appointment will be cancelled.

Belmont, Lexington To Provide Covid Testing After Halloween

Photo: Detail of the poster on post-Halloween testing in Belmont and Lexington

In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, Belmont is partnering with neighboring Lexington to offer free COVID-19 PCR testing following Halloween at two upcoming testing events on Thursday, Nov. 4 and Nov. 6. Both are open to residents of Belmont and Lexington, regardless of the testing location.

PhysicianOne Urgent Care will be providing the testing.  

Please note: You will need to set up an account on their website through the highlighted link below to register for a COVID-19 test, and to view your test results. 

Guide for setting up an account

Residents must have an appointment to be tested. Proof of residency is required.

Register for a COVID-19 test

The testing dates is

Thursday, Nov. 4 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

173 Bedford Street, Lexington (drive-through testing—remain in your car)• 

Saturday, Nov. 6 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Chenery Middle School, 95 Washington St., Belmont (indoor testing)

Nasal swab process 

PhysicianOne Urgent Care uses the Project Beacon online platform for account registration and test scheduling. If you have any issues with registration or scheduling, please contact Project Beacon by email at help@beacontesting.com, or call 617-741-7310, Mon.-Fri. from 8 AM – 4 PM.

All Student COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic at Chenery Middle School, Thursday, Sept. 30

Photo: Shots for students this Thursday. (Image credit: CDC “Getting Your COVID-19 Vaccine”)

The Belmont School District in partnership with VaxinateRx and Healthcare Family Pharmacy is offering two doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination series to all Belmont public school students ages 12 and up on Thursday, Sept. 30, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Chenery Middle School large community room.

According to Beth Rumley, director of nursing for the Belmont Public Schools, all students will be vaccinated free of charge regardless of insurance coverage. If insured please enter insurance information in the online registration. Once registered online there is no need to bring an insurance card to the clinic. 

A follow-up clinic for second doses will be held on Thursday, October 21, 2021, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the Chenery large community room. An additional registration link will be provided to register for the second dose at a later time. Students who have already received their first dose of the Pfizer series at another location are welcome to register for either date to receive their second shot as long as there have been at least 3 weeks between doses. Please remember to send the vaccination card from the previous vaccination and consent form with your student.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW

  • Please register your child to receive the vaccine at: Appointment Quest Scheduler
  • After registering you will receive an email with a link to the consent form for vaccination (please check your spam folder if you do not receive it)
  • Please fill out and print the consent form to bring to the appointment
  • For anyone under the age of 18, a consent form signed by a parent/guardian must be presented in order to receive a vaccine
    • Parent/guardian does not need to be present as long as the child has a signed consent form

If you experience any issues with the registration process please email info@VaxinateRx.com  to resolve any issues.

Reminder: Please make sure to print and sign the consent form and have the student bring it to school on the day of the clinic. A Parent or Guardian signature is required for any students under the age of 18.  

Your child will receive a COVID vaccine card at the time of vaccination. PLEASE KEEP THIS CARD IN A SAFE PLACE. Your child will need it for the second dose.