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.

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