A Massachusetts high school is temporarily switching to remote instruction and all in-person athletics have been cancelled for a week after a COVID-19 cluster was identified that school officials believe is linked to a Halloween party.
Westwood Superintendent Emily Parks and Principal Amy Davenport sent a letter to school families saying they were notified this weekend that two additional ninth grade students at Westwood High School have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to five positive cases of the virus in the past week.
School officials believe many of the five cases originated from an indoor Halloween party where coronavirus safety guidelines were not being observed, including wearing masks or social distancing.
Westwood’s Public Health Director, the high school physician, and its COVID-19 Medical Advisory Team unanimously recommended the high school switch to remote instruction for the week of Nov. 9.
Making this decision allows officials the necessary time to complete contact tracing, receive test results from close contacts and, hopefully, extinguish the cluster, school officials said.
As of Sunday night, approximately 20 students had been deemed close contacts of those with the virus and they will need to quarantine for at least 14 days, officials said.
Coronavirus and Massachusetts Schools
Parks and Davenport said it has been difficult to fully assess the scope of the situation because unfortunately there have been inconsistencies in reporting and varying levels of cooperation with the contact tracing process and recommendation to get tested.
"We strongly recommend that parents have frank, honest conversations with their children about their social behavior over the last week, including attending indoor gatherings and socializing without following other required safety measures, such as mask-wearing," Parks and Davenport said in the letter.
The Westwood Public Health Director recommends any parent with reason to believe that their child was engaged in these behaviors have them tested for COVID-19.
School officials have reached out to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requesting the use of the state's mobile testing unit, which would provide free testing to a limited number of students and staff. The school's request hasn't yet been approved.
All other schools in the district will be open as usual, Parks said.
On Sunday, state health officials reported 1,809 new confirmed coronavirus cases Sunday and an additional 20 deaths in Massachusetts, as the number of coronavirus cases around the globe topped 50 million, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. is leading the world with over 10 million cases and more than 239,000 deaths, NBC News data shows. In Massachusetts alone, there have now been 9,923 confirmed deaths and 166,745 cases, according to the state Department of Public Health.