Baker says most kids can return to in-person learning
Says data indicate only 33 towns should do remote-only education
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER said a key COVID-19 metric currently indicates children in nearly 91 percent of the state’s cities and towns can safely return to school this fall for in-person learning either on a full or part-time basis.
Baker said only 33 of the state’s 351 cities and towns have had four or more cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people over the last two weeks. On a map, the Baker administration labeled those municipalities red and yellow, which means they are at high and moderate risk and deserving of increased state support in bringing down the number of infections.
The rest of the state’s communities are divided into green (less than four cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks) and white (less than five cases overall over the last two weeks). Baker said the level of infection in those communities is so low that students can safely return to school this fall either full-time or using a hybrid model that varies between in-person and remote learning.
“If you’re in a green or a white community, I can’t imagine a good reason not to go back, whether it’s full time or some sort of a hybrid,” Baker said at a State House press conference. “For all intents and purposes, you meet all the benchmarks that are being used across the country and across New England about whether it’s safe to go back to school.”
The Baker administration has been relying on the positive test rate (positive cases as a percent of tests done) as its key COVID-19 metric for the last couple months. But Baker and top aides said on Tuesday that the positive test rate is becoming less important as the state does more testing for all sorts of reasons and not just because someone is symptomatic. He said the positive test rate is also somewhat misleading because a rate of 1.9 percent statewide reveals little about the differences between individual communities.
The new benchmark, using cases per 100,000 residents, enables more community-specific comparisons and allows the state to focus attention on those communities in need of help.
The focus on community-specific data comes as communities are finalizing their back-to-school plans. While Baker has urged schools to return to in-person learning, the state’s teachers’ unions are supporting all-remote learning plans. While districts have until Friday to announce their plans, most appear to be starting the year either in-person or with some kind of hybrid system that combines in-person and remote learning.Practically, officials in several school districts say state guidelines requiring physical distancing in classrooms and on buses can make it impossible for districts to return all students to class full-time since they do not have enough classroom spaces or buses.
A new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics found a 90 percent increase in COVID-19 cases in children over the last four weeks, from 200,000 cases nationwide July 9 to 380,000 cases Aug. 6. But children still represent just 9 percent of all cases nationally, and less than half a percent of deaths. There are 501 child cases per 100,000 children in the population. And the definition of a child varies between states, so some of those children may be as old as 20, or under Alabama’s definition, 24.