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COVID-19: New cases at Claremont, Newport schools hit double digits last week

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/12/2021 10:05:59 PM
Modified: 10/12/2021 10:06:04 PM

NEWPORT, N.H. — Newport and Claremont schools both reported new COVID-19 cases in the double digits last week as case counts in the two Sullivan County communities remain high and vaccination rate low.

At its meeting this week, the Newport School Board is scheduled to consider whether to continue to requiring masks in the town’s schools after Thursday. The schools began the year with masks optional but started requiring them amid a spike in cases last month.

As of Friday, Newport’s Richards School, which includes preschool through fourth grade, had 15 COVID-19 cases, according to Superintendent Brendan Minnihan. The town’s middle school had two and the high school had one.

At this point, Minnihan said he has no “formal recommendation for the School Board” regarding whether or not to continue to require masks.

School nurses will provide information about masks to board members at their Thursday meeting, he said.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend masks in K-12 schools, advice that state officials repeated during a webinar for school leaders last week.

“All regions of New Hampshire (counties or public health regions) continue to be at a ‘substantial’ level of community transmission — so we continue to recommend and highlight the importance of everyone wearing face masks in school and child care facilities,” last week’s presentation to school leaders said.

DHHS also recommends masks inside facilities and classrooms when cases or clusters have been identified.

Health officials said last week that masks and other mitigation strategies are necessary to keep school staff and students — especially those under 12 who don’t yet qualify for vaccination — in school this year. The mitigation efforts will also help their parents to work, prevent further transmission of COVID-19 and allow school officials to focus on student learning rather than tracking COVID-19 cases, DHHS said.

In addition to masks, New Hampshire health officials recommend that schools promote vaccination; physical distancing; screening testing; increasing ventilation; hand washing; staying home when sick; and isolation and quarantine for those who test positive or who are unvaccinated and live with someone who has tested positive; and cleaning.

For their part, schools in neighboring Claremont reported 29 cases last week, with 20 in the city’s elementary schools, according to the Claremont schools’ dashboard. Claremont schools added six more cases on Tuesday of this week, including four at Stevens High School.

Masks are required in shared indoor spaces in Claremont schools due to the “substantial” level of COVID-19 transmission in Sullivan County, according to the Claremont School District’s decision-making matrix. No visitors are allowed inside school buildings, and parents are encouraged to bring their children to school.

Statewide, case counts among children ages 9 and younger are higher than they’ve ever been, hitting a pandemic high of 116 new cases on Sept. 23, according to data from the DHHS.

New Hampshire schools had 97 clusters, three or more related cases, in the first five weeks of this school year, nearing the total of 110 clusters the state’s schools saw all of last school year.

Both Claremont and Newport, along with Sullivan County as a whole, have seen case counts spike since the school year began, according to the dashboard maintained by the Claremont School District. In Claremont, active cases rose from 32 on Sept. 9 to 110 on Monday. In Newport, active cases have risen from five to 63 during that time. In all of Sullivan County, cases have increased from 74 to 259.

Vaccines have not been well-received in Claremont and Newport overall. Just about 45% of Claremont residents and 48% of Newport residents have been fully vaccinated, below the state average of 55%. Those numbers have remained relatively flat in recent months.

In the meantime, the region’s hospitals are feeling the strain. As of Monday, just 8% of hospital beds and less than 3% of intensive care unit beds in the Upper Valley and southwestern region of the state were available.

Springfield, Vt., the Windsor County town that sits across the Connecticut River from Claremont, also is seeing relatively high rates of COVID-19 cases this fall, with more than 80 new cases per 10,000 people in the two weeks ending Oct. 6, according to the Vermont Department of Health. It was the only community on the Vermont side of the Upper Valley to measure rates that high.

After closing due to COVID cases for one day late last month, Springfield schools have continued to record new COVID-19 cases, reporting five in the past week.

On Thursday, the New Hampshire mobile COVID-19 vaccine van is scheduled to be in Claremont at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services’ office on Water Street from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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