Westport schools announce restrictions due to rise in COVID cases

Photo of Katrina Koerting
Westport Superintendent Thomas Scarice at a school board meeting on Monday. Taken Oct. 5, 2020.

Westport Superintendent Thomas Scarice at a school board meeting on Monday. Taken Oct. 5, 2020.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

WESTPORT — A spike in COVID cases within the school district and town overall has prompted several changes to help prevent the spread and keep students and staff safe, Superintendent Thomas Scarice announced Tuesday.

The school district’s weekly COVID screening on Monday identified 12 asymptomatic cases. Another 18 cases were reported since Tuesday morning. It comes as the town reports 113 cases this week, up from a total of 41 last week, Scarice said in an email to families Tuesday afternoon.

“Nearly all who have tested positive report mild to moderate symptoms,” he said. “Based on minimal transmission in the school setting compared to the community, we continue to believe that our schools may be one of the safest places for our students to be.”

He said the community and schools have been flexible and adapted the mitigating measures to respond to the changing conditions of the pandemic.

“Our benchmark has been to continually review our strategies and consider changes every four to six weeks, sometimes sooner,” Scarice said. “However, the recent sharp increase in cases over the past four or five days warrants action.”

He said the district is strengthening its mitigation measures and limiting activities that could contribute to the potential spread within the schools.

This includes canceling the eighth grade trip to the high school for the candlelight performance and canceling all concerts and performances through Jan. 7. Classroom holiday parties will continue with an “emphasis on social distancing.” Access to the buildings will also be restricted for parents and school visitors through Jan. 7.

“While we regret having to take these measures just prior to the holiday, it is our hope that this present wave of COVID-19 will subside and our cases will decrease which will allow mitigating measures to be relaxed,” Scarice said.

School staff will continue to monitor cases throughout break and email updates. Families are still asked to report positive cases through the hotline, though contact tracing will be limited during break.

Scarice said there have been some inquiries about a pre-emptive move to remote learning, but that isn’t an option for districts this year and so Westport schools can’t take this step like last year, Scarice said. The district is able to offer tutoring and other educational opportunities for students who must quarantine due to COVID though.

“Maintaining continued contact with peers and faculty, while attending to the social/emotional needs of our students is critical to their long term mental health and overall wellness,” Scarice said.