Half of COVID-19 cases for New Haven students, staff reported within last week

New Haven Assistant Superintendent Keisha Redd-Hannans emerges from a tent in the parking lot of King/Robinson school after receiving a nasal swab test for COVID-19 on Oct. 22, 2020.

New Haven Assistant Superintendent Keisha Redd-Hannans emerges from a tent in the parking lot of King/Robinson school after receiving a nasal swab test for COVID-19 on Oct. 22, 2020.

Brian Zahn/Hearst Connecticut Media

NEW HAVEN — As the rate of COVID-19 infections across the state increases, roughly half of all positive cases among students and staff within the city’s schools have been reported within the last week.

With small exceptions, about 20,000 students and 2,000 employees have not been inside a school building where any live instruction has taken place this year after the Board of Education voted for remote learning for one marking period — which was then extended indefinitely when infection rates began to increase before a planned Nov. 9 return to schools.

According to data from Jennifer Vazquez, director of public health nursing for the city, 24 public school employees are currently positive for COVID-19; one private school employee in the city is also positive for the virus. Since the start of the school year, 53 staff members have tested positive in the district as well as 30 First Student bus drivers and six private school employees.

The state reported there were 487 positive cases among Connecticut school employees in the last week, 49 more cases than the week before and 478 more new cases than what was reported on Sept. 2, when most school districts opened their buildings for instruction, with students attending full-time or for roughly half of the school week.

Currently, 13 students in New Haven’s public schools are positive for COVID-19 and two students in private schools in the city have also tested positive. Since the beginning of the school year, 29 students in the school system and six within privated schools have tested positive for the virus.

A total of 1,146 new cases among Connecticut students were reported within the last week, including 274 students accessing remote learning — the entirely virtual model used by New Haven students.

New Haven interim Superintendent of Schools Iline Tracey addresses press on March 12, 2020 to discuss the city's decision to close schools indefinitely over COVID-19 concerns.

New Haven interim Superintendent of Schools Iline Tracey addresses press on March 12, 2020 to discuss the city's decision to close schools indefinitely over COVID-19 concerns.

Brian Zahn/Hearst Connecticut Media

School board member Darnell Goldson noted that the information, which Vazquez provided to the board, did not note how many First Student employees had newly tested positive. Superintendent of Schools Iline Tracey said the First Student employees are contractors who are not on the school district’s payroll.

“But they interact with our students,” Goldson said.

“We will continue to follow them,” Vazquez said. “We’ve built a good working relationship and they will be reporting any positive cases to us.”

The city’s health department shut the bus company down for two weeks earlier this month after a number of positive cases were reported among bus drivers. Although the closure of public school buildings meant that ordinary bus routes were not running, First Student had been providing transportation services to charter, private and parochial schools that had opened their doors and has assisted the district with meal distribution efforts by driving to high-traffic residential areas.

In the last week there have been five positive cases of COVID-19 among special education teachers and students in the school district. There has been a cumulative total of eight positive cases associated with special education — seven teachers and one student — since the start of the school year. Last week, officials pulled the plug on a program that allowed about 125 special education students to attend schools in person two days a week in self-contained classrooms with no more than five students in a classroom at a time.

Within New Haven, 18 staff members and 29 students are in quarantine after a potential exposure to the virus. Seventy-eight test results are still pending.

School board member Tamiko Jackson-McArthur lauded district staff for texting information about where families can get tested on weekends.

“I find those to be extremely helpful,” she said. “I think that’s an amazing resource.”

brian.zahn@hearstmediact.com