HAVERHILL — The city has moved out of the red, high-risk zone for COVID-19, but Mayor James Fiorentini is urging residents to avoid relaxing.
He is calling for them to keep up their guard against the virus by wearing masks, keeping their distance from others, and washing their hands often.
“Treat every person as if they have the virus and act accordingly,” Fiorentini said after Haverhill moved out of the red zone and into the yellow zone under color categories set by the state. “Yellow means caution and that’s what people should do — proceed with caution.”
After spending more than a month in the red zone, Haverhill moved back into the yellow, moderate-risk zone late last week after the state changed the criteria for determining what zone to place a community in.
The state Department of Public Health updated its weekly color-coded designation system last week. A community’s designation of gray, green, yellow or red now takes into account the size of the community, positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and the percent of tests conducted that are positive for the virus. A community formerly needed an average COVID daily rate of 8 cases or more per 100,000 residents to be in the red zone.
Fiorentini said that to be in the red zone, a community must now have an average daily rate of 10 COVID cases or more per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of 4 percent or higher. The positivity rate is the number of people who test positive for the virus out of the total number tested.
As of late last week, Haverhill’s positivity rate was 2.8 percent, moving it into the yellow zone under the new criteria. Last week, the city’s average daily number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents was 15.5, but the relatively low 2.8 percent positivity rate is an overriding factor that allowed the city to move from the red to the yellow zone. From last week into this week, Haverhill reported 20 new cases of the virus on Friday, 21 on Saturday, 17 on Sunday and six on Monday.
The mayor said family gatherings have been a source of many recent infections, as well as young people getting together to play basketball or take part in other group activities where they are not being socially distant.
“People are having house parties and although it’s not out of control, it’s been going up steadily,” Fiorentini said of the number of cases in the city. “I am concerned we will go back into the red.
“We have some great news from Pfizer, which has a local branch, that their vaccine is 90% effective,” he said of the vaccine development company with offices in Andover. “Part of my job will be, if the CDC and Dr. Fauci says it’s safe, will be to convince people to take it. This will be a tremendous chore and we’ll have to figure out how to distribute it. We will come up with a plan.”
Schools stick with hybrid learning plan
School Superintendent Margaret Marotta said although state education officials are calling for communities to return all students to classrooms whenever possible, Haverhill schools have committed to maintaining a minimum of six feet between people — including students and staff members. That means hybrid learning — a mix of classroom time and remote learning online from home — will continue, she said.
“We could not meet this standard (six-foot distance between students) if we were fully in-person,” Marotta said, explaining that hybrid learning staggers the days when groups of students are in classrooms, therefore limiting the number of children in school at the same time.
“While this is clearly a discussion for the School Committee at large, at this point, given CDC guidelines, in time I do not see full in-person learning as an immediate option for Haverhill Public Schools,” she said, explaining it is likely local schools will continue using the hybrid format.
State education officials’ new guidelines call for districts and schools in communities designated gray, green, or yellow — those not in the red high-risk category — to have students in classrooms full time, if feasible.
More information about the new guidelines can be found at doe.mass.edu/covid19/on-desktop/interpreting-dph-metrics.html.
Consentino set to reopen Friday
Consentino Middle School is expected to reopen to students Friday after six staff members tested positive for the virus and the school was closed last week.
While the school is closed, all students are learning remotely while teachers are teaching from home, school officials said.
About 60 percent of Consentino’s 702 students adopted the hybrid model this year, learning in classrooms two days per week and remotely from home three days per week. About 40 percent of the school’s students adopted on a fully remote program.
Whittier has new virus cases
At Whittier Regional High School, Superintendent Maureen Lynch notified families and staff on Monday that two students and one staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
Lynch said one of the students has not been in school since Nov. 3 and the other has not been in school since Nov. 5. The staff member has not been in the school since Nov. 3, Lynch said.
The two students and one teacher “will continue to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days,” she said, noting that as of Monday, no close contacts had been identified and that it did not appear the infections were a result of COVID-19 exposure at the school.
“Therefore, once again we have determined that we can continue to safely conduct our hybrid learning model within Whittier at this time,” Lynch said.
Lynch noted that a deep cleaning of the building is done daily, and that it includes a focus on areas frequented by students who have tested positive for the virus.