As a new school year begins across the country, one of the biggest points of contention has been that, with the ongoing pandemic, reopening schools for in-person instruction will likely lead to more spread of the coronavirus and potentially more deaths. In New Jersey- which is considered at this time to be the second-safest state in terms of having coronavirus under control- schools began opening this week. Unfortunately, there is already a report of a high school having a student test positive for coronavirus on day 1.
Here’s What Happened
According to News 12, a student in Hackettstown High School did test positive for the coronavirus on the first day of school.
The story notes that David Mango, the superintendent of the district, told News 12 that administrators did not know about the case until “this morning.” The student is now quarantining due to their diagnosis. In addition, the district has asked all students and staff in contact with this student for “more than 10 minutes” to also quarantine.
We reached out to Mr. Mango to find out what the district’s plan is now that this incident had occurred. Specifically, would this change anything in regards to their reopening? Would they now go all-remote?
After thanking us for our email, Mango shared that “At this time, there is no further information to provide as our alerts were self-explanatory and all appropriate protocols taken as established by the N.J. Department of Health and Warren County Health Department.”
“School was in session today with no further known incidents,” Mango added.
Mango also noted that “This is just one of the many challenges facing all school districts throughout our country as they reopen their doors for students.”
The Parent Speaks Out
In an article on The Patch, Cherie Clemens has spoken out to confirm that it was her daughter who attended high school and was positive for coronavirus.
Clemens explained that she got a call from Morristown Medical Center on Thursday morning at 8:40 AM to inform her that her daughter had tested positive for the virus.
“I then immediately called the school to let them know that I was coming to pick up my daughter so that she would not infect anyone if possible,” Clemens stated of what she did next. “She was there and following all of the school recommended procedures. Her temperature was taken upon drop off like everyone else’s child.”
Clemens went on to reveal that her daughter has mental health issues, and this is what led to her even getting a test for the virus. They had been out to a family dinner to celebrate Clemens’s birthday when her daughter was “having a rough time and crying.” Clemens states that her daughter was having an “acute mental health crisis” and thus they took her over to Morristown Medical Center.
“Upon arrival at the hospital her temperature was taken,” Clemens continued sharing with The Patch. “She was asked all the usual COVID questions. We were then brought back to the ER where we spent the next 12 hours. Upon arriving and getting settled into the room they did blood work they did a urine analysis and they did a mandatory COVID test. Again, after 12 hours, we were told we could be discharged with a plan for treatment.”
“The COVID test was not something that was on my mind when we were leaving,” Clemens elaborated. “I received handwritten discharge papers with no mention of the COVID test.”
After the school was contacted by Clemens, she explained how they handled things that day.
“He [Principal Kyle Sosnovik] called her out in the middle of class and then had to inform all of the students that were in the same class as her for more than 10 minutes. “Kids these days aren’t stupid. They put two and two together.”
“So I am that Mom who sent their child to school with COVID-19,” Clemens continued sharing. “If anyone knows me, I am in the medical field and would never for any reason put anyone in harm’s way knowing that she was sick.”
“Her pediatrician recommended me to have her retested because [the result] could be false positive,” Clemens went on to add. “The Board of Health Department from Warren County has been in contact with me and, according to their protocol as long as she is symptom-free, she may go back to school in 10 days. Again not sure what the school rule is. I was told through the robocall as everyone else was that self-quarantine would be until Sept. 18.”
“Please have a little sympathy for a 16-year-old child who is suffering with a mental health problem to begin with and now has to deal with this on top of everything else,” Clemens wrapped with telling The Patch. “Kids are cruel. Talk to your kids. Be Kind.”
When Will Schools Close?
Many are wondering how many cases of coronavirus it will take until a school shuts down again. The New Jersey Department of Health issued guidelines, as seen above. They note the following:
- If there is 1 confirmed case in the school, the school will remain open. Students and staff in close contact with the positive case are excluded from school for 14 days.
- If there are 2 or more cases in the same classroom, meaning that the “outbreak” is limited to “one cohort,” the school will remain open. Students and staff in “close contact” with the positive case are excluded from school for 14 days. A public health investigation would take place to determine if the entire classroom is considered “exposed” or if it is just certain students/staff.
- If there are 2 or more cases within 14 days- but they are linked to a “clear alternative exposure that is unrelated to the school setting and unlikely to be a source of exposure for the larger school community, such as cases in the same household or cases that people got from being exposed to the virus at the same event- the school will remain open. Students and staff in close contact with the positive cases are excluded from school for 14 days.
- If there are 2 or more cases within 14 days that are linked together by some activity in school but occur in different classrooms, the school will remain open. Students and staff in close contact with the positive cases are excluded from school for 14 days.
- If a “significant community outbreak” occurs or has recently occurred (such as an outbreak at a large event or a local employer) and involves multiple staff/students/families served by the school community, the school will consider closing for 14 days based on an investigation by a local health department.
- If 2 or more cases are identified within 14 days that occur across multiple classrooms and there is a clear connection between the cases OR if there is a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus that cannot be early identified (such as an outbreak involving multiple classrooms), the school will close for 14 days.
- If there was to be a very high risk of community transmission, the school would close until the transmission rate decreases.
Sadly, the story of children going to school and then ending up testing positive for coronavirus is likely one we are going to hear a lot this fall. At a time when many vaccine candidates are in phase 3 clinical trials and likely will be here by early next year, it doesn’t make complete sense why there is an urgent rush to put children back into schools for in-person instruction. Regardless, though, that is what is happening and thus incidents like this are going to continue to happen. The best we can hope for is that, once a case is discovered, all safety protocols are enacted to help to stop the spread.