Approximately 30 people have had to quarantine after two Massachusetts parents knowingly sent their child who was COVID-19 positive to school for in-person instruction earlier this week. According to officials, the child's parents had been notified of the positive COVID-19 result a few days before classes were set to begin at Attleboro High School. But instead of keeping their child home, per the recommendations of local, state, and federal health agencies, the parents sent the child to school, where they potentially exposed teachers, staff, and dozens of other students.
"We are so disappointed that the situation could have easily been avoided," Attleboro High School Principal Bill Runey tells Romper. "I wasn't naïve to the fact that we would never have an exposure, but did not think it would be on the first day."
City officials have little doubt that the parents were unclear or uninformed about their child's positive test result. "There's no question about whether or not the parent knew," Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux told NBC News. According to Heroux, the child in questioned had been tested for the virus Sept. 9 and received a positive result on Sept. 11, three days before classes at Attleboro High School began on Sept. 14.
In a letter to parents, CNN reported Attleboro Public Schools superintendent David Sawyer said school officials did not learn the child had tested positive for COVID-19 until the following day. Contact tracing conducted by the school identified 28 students who'd been in close contact with the infected child and have since been asked to quarantine at home for at least 14 days,Sawyer told parents, as CNN reported.
"I am very proud of the fact that our contact tracing protocols allowed us to very quickly identify those students who were considered close contacts," Runey tells Romper. "Without those protocols, we may have had a much larger number of students out of an abundance of caution."
On Wednesday, Heroux sought to emphasize that the potential outbreak was not the fault of either Attleboro High School or the school district. "The school department did not do anything wrong," Heroux wrote in a statement shared on the mayor's Facebook page. "The school department has been taking great precautions to make sure that our 6,000 students will be as safe as possible under the circumstances."
Runey tells Romper those precautions include reminding families and students of the importance of completing the school's daily health checklist of potential COVID-19 symptoms prior to each school day. "On the heels of this situation, I have not only reminded families of this again; but I have also made announcements over the intercom and had each classroom teacher review the importance of the daily health checklist, masks, hand cleanliness, and social distancing," Runey says.
In comments to CNN, Heroux said the parents used "very poor judgement" and that the whole incident was "very frustrating." According to the mayor, the parents told Attleboro city health officials they'd thought their child only needed to quarantine for days, not weeks, before being able to attend in-person classes, CNN reported.
On Wednesday, Heroux pleaded with other Attleboro families to carefully adhere to public health officials' recommendations. "It's imperative that parents keep their kids home if the kids are COVID positive," Heroux wrote on Facebook. "Additionally if test results are pending, kids should be kept home. If kids are showing any symptoms of COVID-19, they should probably get a test. If anyone has come in to contact with a COVID-19 confirmed individual, it's best to contact either the school nurse or the city nurse to go over the different situations and what to do."
"We should all be vigilant and constantly be monitoring ourselves for symptoms," Heroux added.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.