HAVERHILL — Despite wearing masks and taking other precautions such as social distancing, 38 students and five staff in Haverhill’s Public Schools recently tested positive for COVID-19, although none are exhibiting symptoms, officials said.

School Superintendent Margaret Marotta told the School Committee when it met Sept. 9 that COVID-19 has hit students even more than it did during the last school year.

“We do have quarantining going on as well as Test and Stay across the district for many students who are close contacts,” she said. “We are actively social distancing and using masks, and hand washing and hand sanitizing to try to keep our kids and adults as safe as we possibly can.”

Marotta said the goal of the Test and Stay program is to allow students and staff to remain in school as safely as possible, while lessening the burden of quarantine on students, their families, teachers, and school administrators.

Under the Test and Stay approach, students who come into contact with an individual who tests positive will have the option of quarantining or submitting to regular testing so they can stay in class.

“We now know much more about SARS-CoV-2 than we did in the past,” Marotta said. “With an array of effective mitigation strategies in place, including strict PK-12 masking protocols and higher vaccination rates, we feel confident that the Test and Stay strategy will keep our students and staff safe. Furthermore, we believe that PK-12 masking is a key strategy in our ability to sustain in-person learning for all our children.”

The state is supplying testing materials and the district is supplying staff to support the effort this year, Marotta said.

Pool testing resumes this week as well and permission slips were sent to parents.

“It’s a great way for people who maybe don’t want to vaccinate or for younger kids who can’t vaccinate to keep on top of their health,” Marotta said, noting that many people who have tested positive in the district are not showing any symptoms of the virus.

“They are completely surprised when they are testing positive,” she said. “But for those people who are not feeling ill, they can spread the virus to other people.”

Marotta said DESE is paying for pool testing and is providing 11 full time employees to help operate the program.

In pool testing, groups of students and teachers who spend time together at school swab their noses and place the swabs in a container that is then quickly tested for COVID-19. If the virus is detected, each person participating is then tested separately.

Asked about the rate of teacher vaccinations in the district, Marotta said teachers were asked to voluntarily inform the district of their vaccination status and that by the end of the last school year, the rate was about 80 percent, as far as could be determined.

She said she does know what the current rate of teacher vaccination is in the district, which has hired about 100 new teachers since the end of the last school year.

The district has about 760 teachers currently.

Haverhill schools have not mandated vaccinations for students or staff, however, the School Committee is considering the possibility of mandatory vaccines — although it has no framework for that at the time, Marotta said.

Tim Briggs, president of the Haverhill Education Association, said his union is urging teachers who have not been vaccinated to do so.

“The large majority of our members are vaccinated and through the Massachusetts Teachers Association we’ve been advocating for vaccination and testing,” he said. “Until we get everybody to share their information we can only speculate as to the percentage at this time.”

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