By Sarah Swenson
A spike in COVID cases starting in early September has pushed Nantucket into what the state considers the “red”, or high risk, area, based on cases per 100,000 residents. This has led to the delayed starting of in-person learning at the public schools and other town action or events.
The first day of seven cases, on September 9th, seemed to be an isolated incident. On September 10th, after another day with seven cases, the Nantucket Cottage Hospital put out a statement asking people to get tested if they felt sick or had contact with anyone who tested positive. They also announced that they would be contact tracing, and urged people to comply fully with this. Unfortunately, we were not able to contain the spread, and in the days since, we have had a consistently elevated level of cases. In the past week, we have begun to trend down, although this could be temporary, with only three cases in the past seven days.
On the 27th of September, after a two-day total of 19 cases, the Nantucket Health department in coordination with the NCH put out another statement, again urging people to take precautions and get tested. They also credited part of the spike to a ‘church gathering’, and asked people to avoid large gatherings. Other statements from town health officials referenced teen parties, groups of trades workers, and in-home daycares as possible centers for different spikes. The conclusion in each was that we must keep distancing when possible, wear masks, avoid congregating in groups, and get tested by the hospital if we are experiencing symptoms.
One of the effects of this surge in cases is the push back of the start date for in-person learning at the school. The high school’s original plan was to start the school year with a hybrid learning model, with students in Cohort A and B having their first in-person days on the 17th of October, and Cohort C having their first in-person day on the 18th.
However, in response to the spike in cases, the date was moved back. After several delays, the CPS opened on Monday, October 19th, but the high school in-person learning was once again postponed with the exception of Cohort A, students who have been placed as high priority and are currently attending school in person. “After discussions with town health director Roberto Santamaria, the School Committee, and town officials,” said Superintendent Beth Hallett, “I decided it was best to delay for one week in hopes cases will continue to be low and we’ll be as close to yellow as we can be for October 26th.”
Monday, the 26th, students in Cohort B finally returned to the school, followed by Cohort C on Thursday the 29th. In preparation for the reentry into in-person learning, some students were frustrated, and some excited, that we had to wait this long. “The spike we had was caused by people getting tired of following restrictions and having large gatherings and parties… [but] I think we should be in person because the cases have dropped,” said Sophomore Abby Mason. This sentiment is shared by much of the student body.
On the other side, however, some students think the precautions are not going far enough. The choice to stay completely virtual in Cohort D has been made by some students who do not feel disadvantaged by online learning and don’t want to run the risk of being infected at school. Others who are in the hybrid cohorts, wish the school had waited to send back students in Cohort A. “I think we should start going back towards the end of the month, but I don’t think Cohort A should have gone back so soon,” said Freshman Marley Viselli. Some students fear that with most of the school back in session, we will not be able to stop cases from spreading through the student body.
After Cohort B returned to in-person classes on the 26th, an upward trend of positive cases began to emerge. Three cases were reported on the 26th, Nine on the 27th, and One on the 28th. An email sent out by superintendent Dr.Hallett on Monday clarified that three of the new cases were within the district. Due to privacy concerns, the only information released was the locations of the cases: Two in the Intermediate school and One in the High School. The island is still not in the state-designated “red-zone”, despite these increases in cases. There has been no news suggesting another shut down within the school system.
Outside of the school, the spike in cases has influenced town policies, like Emergency Order No. 13, which was released on October 6th. This order laid out a set of stricter guidelines for wearing masks- on job sites, in public spaces, and when carpooling- with a penalty of an up to 300 dollar fine. Among other restrictions, it also bans gatherings of more than ten people, although the school is notably exempt from this policy.