A summer staff member at a special education program in Westwood, Massachusetts, has tested positive for COVID-19.
The program is taking place at Downey Elementary. The case shines a light on how tricky in-classroom instruction could be in the fall.
"I just think it's so important for these kids to have structure," said Lorri Warren, who has four children in the Westwood district. "So if they can go back safely with masks and do the social distancing, I'm definitely a proponent."
The unidentified staff member stayed home when she felt sick, but after feeling better and being told by her doctor she'd tested negative for the virus, she was cleared to return. But back in school, she got a second call saying she'd been misinformed, and she actually was positive.
"It's strange that a test actually got mixed up," said Dr. Erin Bromage, an associate professor at UMass Dartmouth. "I think the test probably gave the right results, but I think the communication must have broken down. That is unusual for that to actually happen."
The Massachusetts Teachers Association says this is an example of the challenges facing schools as a new school year approaches in the middle of a pandemic.
"Can we do the testing, can we clean the schools, can we provide the protective equipment and sufficient staff to make this safe?" asked Max Page, vice president of the MTA.
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Westwood school officials say the staff member immediately went home after learning of the mix-up. They say she'd only been in school for a three-hour block, and she had been fully outfitted with PPE.
"If we have mixing in hallways, if we have teachers moving between classes, as soon as we get one infection, you don't know how far it's actually gone inside the school," said Bromage, who focuses on infectious diseases. "And so then the whole school needs to shut down in order to contain the spread."
The Downey building was closed down for a day so it could be cleaned and sanitized.
Anyone who had close contact with the staff member has been told to quarantine for 14 days.