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COVID-19 outbreak closes Lyme School

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/19/2022 10:02:05 PM
Modified: 5/20/2022 9:10:13 AM

LYME — The ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases in the Twin States is affecting schools in the Upper Valley.

The Lyme School will be closed four out of five days this week because about a quarter of the student body and more than a dozen employees are sick, according to school officials.

Last Friday, interim Principal Elise Foxall posted a message on the school website announcing that school would be closed Monday and Tuesday “because of the high number of staff absences due to sickness.” She said they hoped they would be able to use the weekend and the first two days of the week to allow people to recover, but when school resumed on Wednesday, 45 students and 11 employees were out sick, according to an email she sent to families that day.

“We are doing the best we can to cover all of our classes today,” Foxall wrote.

Lyme interim Superintendent Frank Perotti, in a Wednesday evening email to the school community, explained that the school would be forced to close again on Thursday and Friday because they lacked other ways to prevent the spread. They were expecting that at least 13 employees at the K-8 school with some 200 pupils would be absent Thursday.

Perotti noted that New Hampshire schools are barred by state rules from instituting mask requirements and shifting to remote learning, and after people test positive for COVID-19 they are required to stay home for at least five days.

“Our only tool to try and get things back to a reasonably safe and educationally sound place is to try closing again and hope we get the majority of our staff back by Monday,” he said.

Perotti, who is himself sick with COVID-19, said that he aims to be back at school on Monday, wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

The closing of the Lyme School comes amid a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the Twin States. As of last week, due to a “high” level of COVID-19 in the four counties of the Upper Valley, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear masks indoors in public settings.

In New Hampshire, on Wednesday, there were 119 people hospitalized with COVID-19, along with another 15 hospitalized who were suspected to have COVID-19, and 54 who were no longer contagious but recovering from COVID-19, according to the New Hampshire Hospital Association. Those numbers are about the same as those reported in early February.

As of Thursday morning, there were 19 COVID-positive inpatients in Dartmouth Health facilities and 26 patients being cared for by Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire, a member of the DH system, according to Audra Burns, a DH spokeswoman. There were 11 patients at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon; three at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, N.H.; three at Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor; and two at New London Hospital.

“The BA.2 variant is more infectious than the original omicron variant and is contributing to higher levels of COVID-19 in our communities, which we are seeing reflected in our COVID numbers and hospitalizations,” said Laura Montenegro, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

DHHS recommends that people get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 in order to protect themselves against severe disease. In addition, the department recommends that people wash their hands and stay home if they have new symptoms of COVID-19. People can choose to test to identify infections early and prevent spreading it to others, she said. They also can choose to wear face masks indoors.

Those who do become infected can contact their health care provider to access treatments to prevent severe disease such as Paxlovid, an antiviral, she said.

When DHHS stopped recommending universal masking in February, the New Hampshire Department of Education issued a technical advisory stating that school districts that continued to require masks would be in conflict with DOE rules, including those that require that schools maintain policies that “meet the instructional needs of each individual student;” “promot(e) a school environment that is conducive to learning;” and that “meets the special physical health needs of students.”

In addition, the State Board of Education, in February, issued a rule allowing for remote learning only due to inclement weather or at the request of a parent or guardian.

But Anne Sosin, a policy fellow and public health expert at Dartmouth College, faults the rollback of mitigation strategies such as mask requirements for allowing COVID-19 to spread and cause outbreaks large enough to shutter schools.

“This outcome is entirely predictable and preventable,” she said.

She described the decision to lift mitigation strategies such as mask requirements as “shortsighted.”

The CDC guidance, which neither of the Twin States’ health departments or education agencies are following, was built with an eye to limiting the effect of COVID-19 on the health system, not on keeping schools open, Sosin said.

“Not even following that guidance is truly a formula for failure for schools,” she said.

The Lyme School isn’t alone in having to close its doors this week.

The Ledyard Charter School in Lebanon shifted to remote learning last Friday after half of the school’s employees tested positive for COVID, according to the school’s Facebook page. It remained so through this week.

“Teachers will be holding virtual office hours, and healthy students may request time working with a healthy teacher at school,” the Facebook page said.

Perotti, the Lyme School interim superintendent, said he understood the stress that the spate of illness and the school closing has on families.

“My wife and I are both currently infected and isolated at home,” Perotti said in his Wednesday email to families. “Our niece who lives with us and is a senior in high school is having to stay with a friend in an effort to avoid illness and complete her senior year. Our two daughters are returning from college over the next few days and have also found temporary homes with friends. It is not easy, and I know some of you have it much harder than we do.”

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

CORRECTION: “Not even following that guidance is truly a formula for failure for schools,” Anne Sosin, a policy fellow and public health expert at Dartmouth College, said of schools not following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on wearing masks indoors in areas with high levels of COVID-19. An earlier version of this story misquoted her. 




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