LAWRENCE — After shutdowns Monday and Tuesday, more than 30 percent of Lawrence Public School students were absent Wednesday as COVID-19 positive test rates continue to surge in the city, officials said.

According to school department records, 4,039 of the district’s 13,125 students were absent on Wednesday.

Additionally, 319 staff members were out Wednesday.

Of those staff absences, 189 were COVID-19 related including staff members who were caring for an ill family member, according to information provided by Christopher Markus, school district spokesperson.

Lawrence public health records from Tuesday show 621 new Covid cases and one death. City officials were alarmed last week after a three-day surge of more than 1,700 positive cases.

A spokesperson for the Lawrence Teachers Union said “nobody should be surprised” by these numbers.

“People are sick everywhere ... . We are in the middle of a runaway pandemic and it’s worse than it’s ever been. This was predicted,” said Steve Crawford, LTU spokesperson, reached Wednesday afternoon.

Crawford said unionized teachers believe students should be learning remotely at this time. Schools across the state are scrambling to fill in for teachers and find substitutes willing to work. In Boston, Crawford noted, the superintendent is teaching at the classroom level due to shortages.

“Schools should be remote,” he said.

There was no school in Lawrence on Monday. On Tuesday, schools for kindergarten through grade 8 were open. However, the high school and pre-K classes were closed.

Superintendent of schools Cynthia Paris, in a letter to parents, said staff shortages necessitated Tuesday’s closure of the high school and pre-K classes.

As the state grapples with COVID-19 Omicron variant, the highest number of positive cases were seen in Lawrence in the age 5 to 29 group, said Frank Bonet, spokesperson for Mayor Brian DePena.

Bonet said “81 percent of the positives came from that age group alone.”

He noted children and younger people tend to “congregate together,” allowing the virus to spread.

DePena’s office at City Hall has also been hit. Three of the seven workers in the mayor’s office have been out this week already due to COVID-19 positive tests and illness, he said.

An in-person, open door meeting DePena had scheduled for Friday has been canceled, Bonet noted.

“We are very concerned about these high numbers,” Bonet said.

The city was able to purchase another 140,000 test kits. However, it’s unclear when they will arrive, Bonet said.

When they do, Bonet said the kits will be distributed through the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club and other city groups that cater to children.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.

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