Tag Archives: Coronavirus

Superintendent Scarice: Mitigating Measures Work

Today, Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice updated the community on Westport Public Schools’ immediate future, quarantine practices, supports for quarantined students and distance learners, transportation, travel guidance and COVID reporting.

He also added a few personal thoughts on what we might expect over the horizon. He wrote: 

The Immediate Future
As projected in October, community infection rates increased sharply over the past month. Meanwhile, our schools have shown a remarkable resilience in halting any spread of the virus in our buildings. I am confident that vigilance in maintaining our mitigating measures (i.e. masks, distancing, hand hygiene, etc.), as well as keeping the density of our schools at 50% capacity, have ensured this measure of success.

Thomas Scarice (Photo courtesy of Zip06.com)

We have identified nearly 80 positive student and staff COVID-19 cases in our schools since September. As a result, nearly 1,500 students and staff have been asked to quarantine.

Yet there has been little to no spread of COVID-19 once positive cases have been identified in our schools. The lack of positive COVID-19 tests of those in quarantine is affirmation of our ability to halt the spread of the virus once it enters our schools.

We will return to on-site schooling in the hybrid model on Monday (November 30) at all of our schools. There will be just over three weeks until our next break beginning December 24. As I mentioned in my last message to the school community, I see this year in 4-6 week increments.

Public health experts project high transmission rates until the start of the new year. It is critical that parents and those in the community partner with us to maintain the same vigilance that is evident in our schools in order to keep our schools open for on-site schooling. An outbreak of the virus, or staffing challenges, can put all of our schools into a fully remote model.

Sharpening Our Quarantining Practices
Quarantining is a necessary mitigating measure in preventing the spread of COVID-19 once a positive case has been identified. As the number of positive cases dramatically increased over the past few weeks in our community, placing Westport into the high risk category, we took a conservative approach with our contact tracing efforts in the schools. This approach led to recommended quarantines for large numbers of staff and students.

Again, our mitigating measures have been extremely effective resulting in a very limited number of positive cases through in-school transmission. This fact is most significant. In reviewing data related to the number of quarantines associated with close contacts in our schools,  it has been determined that spread in our schools has been extremely rare.

Despite the “second wave,” in-school transmission of COVID-19 is very rare at Staples High School, and throughout Westport.

For example, of 508 classroom exposures recorded at Staples High School through November 23rd, only one is believed to have led to an additional positive case within the school. This success in controlling the spread of COVID-19 allows us to modify our current approach to contact tracing, specifically in the middle and high school, which will help limit the number of students and staff needing to quarantine.

With support from the Westport/Weston Health District, and our medical advisor, Dr. Norman Weinberger, we intend to take a more precise approach when determining “close contacts” and recommending a self-quarantine.  These changes will be in effect after we return from the Thanksgiving break.

Instructional Support for Distance Learning and Quarantined Students
As the number of students in distance learning and quarantine increased, new challenges were posed for our school district. I suspect we would have concluded last summer that an increase in distance learners (i.e. from 168 in K-5 on October 30 to an anticipated 207 on November 30) and those in quarantine would coincide with a move to fully remote instruction. However, given the resilience demonstrated by our schools, and the encouragement of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, our doors remain open for on-site schooling in the hybrid model.

In order to address the number of students in need of instruction in distance learning or quarantine, I am very pleased to share that we have secured the services of multiple certified teachers to provide support for these programs.  These resources should be in place to start following the Thanksgiving break.

Transportation
The provision of transportation is guaranteed for each public school student.  However, given the complexity of transportation during the pandemic we encourage parents to transport their children to and from school whenever possible. Decreasing density on our school buses will minimize the need to quarantine students when a positive case is identified on a bus. Of course we will continue to transport all students in need of transportation.

Socially distanced school buses (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Travel Guidance
Travel guidance has been issued. Interstate and international travel is forbidden without following the guidelines. Failure to comply with Connecticut’s travel policies (https://portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus/travel) may result in a civil penalty of $500 for each violation.  Please take this seriously and adhere to the guidelines issued by the CDC and Connecticut Department of Public Health.

COVID-19 Reporting Hotline
As a reminder, we have developed a COVID-19 reporting hotline to report positive cases only. The number is  (203) 341-1016. Also, an email can be sent to PositiveCovidReport@westportps.org.  If your child has tested positive for COVID-19 please use one of these two methods to communicate to the schools.  You may also contact your school nurse for any follow up information. See this link for more information.

Over the Horizon
As challenging as this year has been, and as dark as it is expected to get over the next 8 weeks or so, I am more optimistic now than I’ve ever been about our future.

Although we have used rather primitive methods to confront this pandemic (i.e. physical distance, masks, etc.), the ubiquity of biotechnology breakthroughs is close to catching up. Treatments have emerged for those infected. Proactive surveillance testing is becoming a reality, and not just for the NBA and the most exclusive colleges and private schools. Vaccines are racing towards the finish line with success rates that match the aspirations and hopes of recent biotechnology promises.

With that, I would like to bring your mind to the other side of this pandemic, which could be within reach in a matter of months. Although I do not expect a “war is over” declaration, I do anticipate that these breakthroughs will conspire with our collective purpose to turn our exclusive attention towards the work of teaching and learning, towards the work of preparing all learners for the challenges of the modern world, and towards building a system that enables all students to thrive and make positive contributions to their world.

A return to “normal” school could be oaround the horizon.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, for this reflective moment, for this optimism, I am most grateful.

In closing, I’d like to share one of my favorite pieces on the purpose of education. As you contemplate the other side of this pandemic and a potential renewed vision of our schools, may these words rise within you and inspire you to action.

In 1947, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote this essay for his school newspaper at Morehouse College. Although published nearly 75 years ago, it rings as true today as it did then.

Have a restful and peaceful Thanksgiving,
Tom Scarice

Marpe Urges Thanksgiving Precautions

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Yesterday, Governor Lamont announced that 145 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities are in the red zone alert level, the highest of the state’s 4 alert levels on the weekly COVID-19 Alert Map.  This indicates municipalities with an average daily COVID-19 case rate over the last 2 weeks of more than 15 per 100,000 population.

This week Westport is calculated at 33 cases out of a population of 100,000, compared to 22.4 cases last week.

According to the CDC, more than 1 million COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States over the last 7 days. This is alarming, and demonstrates that we must remain vigilant. We must anticipate that cases will continue to spread as individuals travel, return home from college, gather and shop in the weeks ahead. Wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding gatherings is a must if we are to control this pandemic.

This year, many traditional activities surrounding Thanksgiving and the upcoming holidays have the potential to threaten our health and safety. I urge all residents to refrain from typical large holiday gatherings.

This Stevan Dohanos Saturday Evening Post cover — modeled on a Long Lots Road home — shows a scene that (for many reasons) will not be repeated this year.

As of November 6, the statewide cap on gathering in private residences is 10, down from 25. Please keep your Thanksgiving celebration to no more than 10, and preferably celebrate at home only with the people with whom you live. Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of contracting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.

Avoid crowds on Black Friday, or prepare for strict adherence to the 50% capacity rule at retail stores. Consider Cyber Monday as an alternative. Always maintain a 6-foot distance from others, and wear a face covering.

Review the CDC and state Department of Public Health guidelines for the Thanksgiving holiday, including traveling, gathering, and alternatives to gathering and protocols for college students returning to or visiting Connecticut:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays/thanksgiving.html

https://portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus/Covid-19-Knowledge-Base/Holiday-Guidance

Testing

For information on testing sites, please click here for a list of local test sites, or click here for the state-wide listing.

If you have a pending test due either to symptoms of COVID or exposure to COVID, please refrain from going out into the community until you have received results.

St. Vincent’s Health Center is one of several places offerin COVID-19 tests. (Photo/Adam Stolpen)

Winter Sports

Much of the increase in COVID cases and the resulting school closures are a result of gatherings, parties and sports team activities. Effective Monday (November 23), the governor has ordered all club and team sports, including CIAC sports, to postpone all organized events until January 19.

Schools

Staples High School, and Bedford and Coleytown Middle Schools, are on distanced learning through the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Westport Public School Superintendent Tom Scarice and I remind everyone that the ability for our schools to remain open for in-person learning depends primarily on the actions of our entire population. We continue to urge all to follow the appropriate protocols so that our community can remain open, but safe.

Unsung Hero #166

We’re closing in on 9 months since the pandemic first struck Westport.

It’s almost time for a kid conceived those first nights — after schools, the library, the Y and Town Hall closed — to be born.

In that time, Westporters have:

  • Sewed and distributed masks
  • Collected food for pantries here and throughout Fairfield County
  • Painted inspiring messages on posters, sheets and rocks
  • Supported their children in the difficult, ever-changing world of remote and hybrid learning — and supported their children’s teachers too
  • Gone out of their way to support (and appreciate) local merchants and restaurants
  • Provided a host of entertainment opportunities, from a pop-up theater to socially distanced concerts and virtual galas
  • Delivered groceries, medicines and supplies to locked-down, quarantined neighbors, friends and strangers
  • Done countless other things, large and small, to make life a little better for all.

The next few weeks — months? — may be the toughest of all.

The weather is turning cold. We’re spending more time indoors — the most dangerous spot for transmission. We’re suffering from mask fatigue, social distancing fatigue, Zoom fatigue. We’ll miss so many holiday traditions, so much fun.

This might be the darkest winter of our lives. But we’re here. We’ve made it through nearly 9 months, when in the beginning we didn’t know if we could make it to April.

So here’s to us. We — all of Westport — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

Enjoy the honor. But don’t forget: Wear a mask.

Roundup: Schools Dashboard, Stew’s Tree, More


Want to know how our schools are doing, COVID-wise?

The Westport Public Schools’ web page has overviews, schedules, plans, FAQs — all broken down by elementary, middle and high school levels — along with a “dashboard.”

It shows the number of individuals (staff and students) with positive confirmed cases, who are currently isolating. The most recent number was 37.

There’s also the number of staff and students currently quarantining, because of suspected exposure. That number: 854.

Click here for the page. Then bookmark it, for future reference.


First Christmas tree of the season? Spotted yesterday at Stew Leonard’s:


Señor Salsa said “adios” in January.

Now, nearly a year later, the Post Road West spot is being replaced by … a Mexican restaurant.

Oh, wait. That’s the same story I posted back in May.

I guess it all depends on what the meaning of “Coming Soon” is.


And finally … today marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Elton John’s 5th album. How do I know this obscure fact? Well, the title was 11/17/70 …

CT App Aids COVID Contact Tracing

Since March, Connecticut residents have primarily learned of possible exposure to someone with COVID-19 by phone calls and word of mouth.

Now there’s a third: a smartphone app.

“COVID Alert CT” is completely confidential. No personal information is shared. And it’s free, for Apple and Android users.

After downloading (click here), Bluetooth senses whether your device has been within 6 feet — for 15 minutes or more in one day — of someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.

If so — and that infected person is also using the app on their personal device — an alert is triggered.

A notification is not triggered if 2 devices pass by for a short duration, or stay more than 6 feet away from each other.

If a user tests positive, a contact tracer from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, their local health department or their higher education institution will ask if they are willing to share the “close contact” codes their app has logged while they may have been contagious.

If the user agrees, a contract tracer will provide them with a verification code.
Once that code is submitted through the app, those individuals who came within 6 feet of that user for more than 15 minutes and who also are using the app will receive a notification on their device that they were in close contact with someone with COVID-19.

Sharing this status is secure and private. The app will never reveal who the user is to anyone else.

Schools Superintendent Updates The Community

Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice is conducting a master class in communication. Today he provided these updates to the community:

COVID Update
On October 13 I shared with the community that the public health experts we consulted projected a significant spike in rates of infection in the subsequent 4-6 weeks. The following chart of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people illustrates the fulfillment of those projections. 

As the rates of positive COVID cases increase in the community, cases enter our schools.

However, since we returned in September, we have been able to mitigate the spread of the virus, maintaining safety in our schools.

That said, I cannot say the same for other settings in the community. In full candor, the ability to maintain in-person schooling is largely dependent on the vigilance of the community to apply the same mitigating measures your child experiences each day in school.

Our cases are widely related to lapses in the community. Local public health experts are not reporting widespread outbreaks in schools, but they are uncovering outbreaks in informal settings (e.g. youth sports, informal gatherings/parties, car pools, etc.).

This is not intended to cast aspersion on such activities, but only to implore those in the community to support our efforts in anticipation of a long winter confronting this pandemic. We will continue to work as vigilantly as we can to enforce our measures as well.

Staples High School On Full Remote Through Thanksgiving, Bedford and Coleytown Middle Schools Return to Hybrid Monday November 16
Due to a staffing shortage as a result of significant quarantines, Staples, Bedford and Coleytown Middle were all placed on remote learning for November 12 and 13.

Staples will remain on remote through Thanksgiving, and the middle schools will return to the hybrid model on Monday November 16. Click here for full details.

How Do Mitigating Measures Work?
At the expense of oversimplifying the use of mitigating measures, perhaps this graphic captures it best from the Cleveland Clinic.

 

Can My Child Get a Negative COVID Test to Return to School From Quarantine?
No. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. During this time, even after a negative test, you may develop symptoms and become infectious within this 2-14 days time frame after exposure. This is based on consistent guidance from the CDC and the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

Can My Child Return to School After a Positive COVID Test if They Subsequently Get a Negative PCR Test?
No. A student can return to school 10 days after the onset of symptoms or 10 days after the date of the positive test. A subsequent test does not negate a previous positive test.

Does My Child Need a Negative COVID Test to Return After a Quarantine Period?
No. If your child does not develop symptoms they may return to school after the 14 day quarantine period. If your child does develop symptoms, it is best to have your child see their pediatrician.

Next Steps
We will continue to monitor our ability to mitigate virus transmission in the schools and maintain our staffing levels so that we can receive students on-site safely. However, it is possible that an intermittent or extended remote learning period may be implemented if necessary for our schools.

COVID Alert: Westport Is Now Red

The State of Connecticut has implemented a color-coded map indicating the average daily rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population by town.

Based on a 14-day rolling average, Westport’s rate is 22.4. That places us well within the “red” category, of 15+ cases per 100,000.

Connecticut’s COVID map.

Given this status, the state Department of Health recommends that:

  • High risk individuals stay home and stay safe.
  • Others should limit trips outside of the home and avoid gatherings with non-family members.
  • Organized indoor activities, as well as outdoor activities where social distancing and mask wearing cannot be maintained, should be postponed.
  • Gatherings at private residences are limited to 10 people.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe notes:

“The new COVID cases are primarily a result of large gatherings, parties and organized sports activities. As such, the Westport Public Schools, Westport businesses and restaurants and other public facilities will continue to operate under the State’s Phase 2.1 guidelines.

“The Parks and Recreation Department acknowledges that it is important for individuals and families to get outside and exercise. As a result,

  • Fields, beaches and parks will remain open with reinstituted rules regarding court usage.  Facility users are expected wear a face covering if a 6-foot distance cannot be maintained with those who do not live in the same household. Higher risk sports, such as boys lacrosse and 11-on-11 football, should not take place.
  • The Compo Beach skate park and basketball courts will remain open, but may be closed if proper guidelines are not followed.
  • The Longshore golf course remains open. Beginning Saturday, November 14, golf cart rentals will go back to single rider only (unless in same household).
  • The Parks & Recreation Department has revoked field permits, and will not issue new permits until further notice.

Permits for use at the Wakeman athletic fields have been revoked..

The Westport Library will remain open with its expanded hours and services.  All Library events will continue to be virtual. Click here for details.

Roundup: COVID Spread, Book Sales, Westport Blanket, More


Yesterday, 2 officials advised Westporters about the rapid increase of coronavirus in town.

Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice said that while COVID cases have been discovered in the school population, administrators’ swift response to new cases has resulted in “little to no widespread COVID contamination.”

However, new cases require immediate attention, like quarantining and contact tracing. While the lack of spread demonstrates that the processes in place are working, the schools are continually challenged by new cases resulting from outside activities.

These include recent large gatherings, parties and sports activities involving students or parents. Photos and social media posts caused 1st Selectman Jim Marpe to ask Parks and Recreation director Jen Fava to consider reinstating earlier COVID-related policies at local parks, fields and recreation facilities.

Marpe says: “The ability for our schools to remain open for in-person learning is dependent on the actions of our entire community. I urge all residents to follow the appropriate public health protocols so that our community can remain open, but safe.

“Please refrain from contact sports, wear a mask, social distance, avoid gatherings and practice good hygiene. Residents are strongly urged to avoid gatherings where adherence to social distancing and mask wearing cannot be accomplished.”

Anyone awaiting test results, whether taken because of symptoms or COVID exposure, should not go out into the community until receiving those results.

Staples Players have done most rehearsals for their radio shows remotely. When they do get together, they are diligent about wearing masks. (Photo/Kerry Long)


The Westport Library’s Holiday & Winter Book Sale is always eagerly anticipated by gift givers.

The bad news: COVID-19 has knocked out in-person shopping. This year it’s all online.

The good news: It’s already there.

Fiction, mystery, arts, biographies, photography, cookooks, sci-fi, puzzles, kids’ books, plus CDs, puzzles an games — they’re all available from the comfort of home.

Click here to browse. All books are available for pickup by appointment at the library’s upper parking lot, 7 days after purchase.

New items are added weekly. So bookmark the page, and check back often.


Speaking of holiday gifts: This is my favorite so far.

Savvy + Grace — the wonderful, whimsical Main Street gift shop across from Rye Ridge Deli — sells some very cool Westport-themed items. What stands out is a fleece blanket, featuring an 1890s topographic map of the town.

Click here to check it — and much more — out. In-store shopping, curbside pickup and shipping are all available.

Savvy + Grace’s Westport blanket.


And finally … today is Friday the 13th. Just what we need in 2020!

High School, COVID-Style: A Senior Reflects

Lys Goldman is a senior at Staples High School. She is a captain of the girls’ soccer team and a paper managing editor of Inklings, the student newspaper. She is also involved in other clubs, primarily focused on animal rights activism and environmental sustainability.

She does not speak for all Staples students — but her insights are on target, and important. Lys writes:

I walk through the hallways donning my navy blue mask, smiling at friends and then laughing at myself for forgetting that they cannot see my mouth.

I arrive at class shortly after the bell rings, my trip prolonged by the one-way hallways that prohibit my usual routes. I sit down in my classroom as my teacher opens the Zoom meeting and greets the students at home.

Eighty long minutes later I stand up, disinfect my desk with an alcohol wipe, and repeat the process again.

The next day, instead of driving to Staples for in-person school, I drag myself out of bed 3 minutes before my first class. I log onto Zoom to learn online from the comfort of my own house.

Lys Goldman in class, 3 days a week.

Being a high school student during a pandemic has brought changes and difficulties, from dogs barking during online learning, to diminished connections between fellow students, to a loss of typical social lives and extracurricular activities.

However, there have also been unexpected positive impacts, such as a renewed gratitude for time in school and lessened stress levels during online learning.

In school, the environment and procedures have undergone significant modifications to foster safety amidst the pandemic. Of course, first and foremost is the mask mandate. Going to school in a mask, while unfortunately impeding on my penchant for snacking constantly during class, has not had any notable consequences on my ability to learn.

Conversely, the distance between desks has had outsized negative repercussions on my experience in school. Though most of my classes freshman to junior year set up desks in different ways, all grouped at least 2 desks together.

I did not realize it at the time, but the desk setup was a key component in allowing me to connect with my classmates and gain a better understanding of the course content by talking with peers around me.

Because of COVID-19, each desk is uniformly separated to retain space between students. Isolated desks make it very difficult to talk with classmates and help each other understand the material. 

Close in-class collaboration — like these students in the “Staples Spectacular Challenge” — is a thing of the past. (Photo by Julia McNamee)

Another challenge that the pandemic has presented with regards to the hybrid model is the testing procedure. Exam policy varies from teacher to teacher, creating discrepancies throughout the school and even within courses.

Some teachers allow notes on all exams at home and in school; some split the test into 2 sections with notes allowed at home and disallowed in school; some trust the integrity of students at home and prohibit notes on all exams. Ultimately, the lack of uniformity in testing policies and procedures has resulted in questions of fairness among students.

Though the pandemic has unsurprisingly resulted in numerous negative implications on in-school learning, it has strengthened my gratitude for the opportunity to even be in school at all. Knowing that lots of students elsewhere have been forced to turn to full online learning, I have begun appreciating every moment in school — even the miserable test-taking ones.

Just half the senior class is in school together on any day. Still, students find ways to get together.

At home, the challenges and benefits differ from those at school. The main struggle for me is staying focused and eliminating distractions. In a family of 10 kids, 5 dogs, 5 cats and 2 birds, it is very difficult for me to keep my attention strictly concentrated on my class Zoom. It is also very easy to zone out when you are sitting in your own bedroom rather than in a classroom.

On the other hand, online learning does come with some benefits: namely, the opportunity to stay home when needed and not miss important class information or activities.

I am a big believer in mental health days, but sometimes I decide against taking a mental health day even when I need one because I do not want to miss important information, and I do not want the burden of making up classwork.

However, with the ability to stay home and learn on Zoom when needed, it relieves some stress when I feel like I need a stay-at-home day but don’t want to fall behind in my classes.

Outside of school, the typical high school social life has clearly been impacted by COVID-19. I still hang out with a small group of friends, but I avoid large group gatherings. Though I do wish I could participate in a bigger group setting sometimes, I do not believe it is a big price to pay to stay safe.

Additionally, extracurricular activities have been forced to adjust to follow safety regulations, but many are at least still proceeding even in a slightly different form. As member of the girls’ soccer team and the school newspaper, I have experienced a year so far in both organizations that I certainly could not have imagined, but I am extremely grateful that I am able to play and write at all.

Lys and the Staples girls soccer team have had a very successful season.

I never expected my senior year of high school to include the changes and adjustments precipitated by the pandemic. Despite the challenges, I am thankful for the opportunity to continue with in-school learning and after-school activities, even with restrictions.

Looking toward college and the rest of my life, I believe this experience will help me appreciate the sense of normalcy that I often overlooked prior to the pandemic.

State Rolls Back To COVID Phase 2.1

First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Due to increasing rates of COVID-19 in Connecticut, the state will roll back from Phase 3 to Phase 2.1 effective tomorrow (Friday, November 6).

Phase 2.1 is a slightly modified version of the previously enacted Phase 2 rules. Changes under Phase 2.1 include:

  • Restaurants will return to or remain at 50 percent capacity, with a maximum of 8 people per table
  • Restaurants and entertainment venues will be required to close by 9:30 p.m. except for food takeout and delivery services, which may continue after 9:30 p.m.
  • Personal services, such as hair salons and barber shops, will remain at 75 percent capacity
  • Event venues will be limited to 25 people indoor, 50 people outdoor
  • Performing arts venues and movie theaters will have a capacity of 100 people
  • Religious gatherings will be limited to 50 percent capacity or 100 people maximun
  • Residents are urged to remain indoors between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., unless for essential activities.

Westport businesses will remain open. I encourage those who can to continue patronizing local restaurants and businesses.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, Westport has promoted local and small businesses. A great idea for eating out and staying safe — BYOB (“Bring Your Own Blanket”) comes from the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.

The Westport Weston Health District says that a significant portion of Westport’s COVID cases are related to youth travel sports. These programs are regional, span several states and fall outside of local authority. Updated state Department of Public Health guidance for youth and interscholastic sports is forthcoming.

Town officials are also aware that some very large gatherings of both young people and adults occurred over Halloween weekend. We continue to stress that everyone be sensitive to neighbors, and aware of the risks imposed on those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly.