CAMBRIDGE — Citing a virus outbreak among students and county’s dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, Dorchester County Public Schools Superintendent W. David Bromwell announced in a letter to the community Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 6, that schools will remain in Phase 1 — all virtual learning — next week.
“As I announced during the break, we planned on returning Jan. 5, in small group instruction as before the break. My daily conversations with Dorchester County Health Department Officer Roger Harrell continued over the holiday break, when the Executive Team and I waited anxiously for his daily reports. Each day, Dorchester County’s COVID case figures continued to remain somewhat steady, giving us significant but very cautious optimism for returning in January with an increased student population in our schools,” Bromwell wrote.
He said that optimism began to unravel Dec. 30 the county positivity rate jumped exponentially. Dorchester County has risen to as high as 9.8% positivity rate and 51.5 per 100 thousand case rate, Bromwell said.
“In the days following Dec. 30, 15 DCPS students of varying grade levels tested positive for COVID-19. These students would have affected 7 of our 13 schools,” Bromwell continued. “This was a considerable shift from previous weeks as we had little to no student and staff infections and had been operating over the recommended positivity rate number of 5% and case rate of over 15 per 100k quite successfully. We had been so successful, that several days prior to the break, over 500 students were present in their home school.”
He called the outbreak “disturbing and outright scary.” Nothing like it had been seen since the pandemic began in March, and it occurred in a five-day span while the students were not in school.
“My concern immediately after hearing about our students was that we could NOT create a ‘super spreader’ event by bringing our students back to school in small groups,” Bromwell wrote.
Harrell agreed, and Sunday Bromwell announced to return to Phase I with Wednesday as the deadline to decide next week’s status.
Since Sunday, the number of active COVID cases in Dorchester County has nearly doubled with the number of deaths increasing during the last nine-day span. As of Wednesday, Dorchester reported 1,584 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with 135 cases active. Three county residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and 26 residents have died from the virus.
Bromwell said he and Harrell will continue to talk each day.
“(Harrell) uses up to eight different metrics to determine his recommendation for staff and students returning to school, including local hospital capacity ,which is already under pressure,” Bromwell said. “As of today, Dorchester County has a 9.8% positivity rate causing us very real concerns for DCPS students and staff.”
He noted the term is coming to a close and urged parents and students to contact teachers, guidance counselors or school administration to assist with any concerns. “Remember, all your grades count towards passing a class and being promoted for the school year,” he said.
Bromwell reiterated the message: “COVID-19 does not care about how schools or parents plan.”
Another update is scheduled for next Wednesday.
“I want everyone to remain safe while staying vigilant with your COVID-19 safety guidelines. Stay tuned, stay healthy, and stay hopeful that we can proceed further into small group, Phase 1.5 or Phase II of our reopening plan as soon as safely possible,” Bromwell concluded.