District Starts Initiative to Reduce Positive COVID Cases


Lilli DiGrande, News Editor

After seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases after winter break, Hampden-Wilbraham school officials have started a new initiative to reduce the number of students and staff infected with the COVID-19 virus.

The two weeks before winter break, all schools in the Hampden-Wilbraham School District had an average of 28 cases per week. But from the weeks of December 23, 2021 to January 19, 2022, that number significantly increased to an average of 223 cases per week district-wide, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). 

However, numbers have been steadily decreasing since January 26 to February 2, with 62 cases reported district wide that week.

Superintendent Albert Ganem, along with other school officials, took initiative through DESE in mid-January to start distributing Antigen at-home COVID tests to families that signed up. They started distributing the tests to students on Wednesday, February 2. 

Every other week, students whose parents opted into this option will be getting a kit that contains two tests in it. Superintendent Ganem and the nurses are asking that every Wednesday students test themselves.

This is a type of self-testing known as symptomatic testing. The students only have to notify the nurses if they receive a positive test result. 

“We’re giving out the tests so that this will eliminate having to designate close contacts,” Ganem explained. “This will all take that away because basically what we’re saying at this point is ‘everyone is a close contact, and here are the test kits.”’

Superintendent Ganem, Nurse Care Coordinator Melissa Lonczak, and HWRSD Nurse Leader Kiara Fryer have already sent out emails to families and staff asking if they wanted to be a part of the testing initiative.

If people didn’t want to get the test kits as soon as they were distributed, they’d still have the option to choose that later on. This symptomatic self-testing effectively eliminates the test and stay program that the district previously adhered to.

“It’s a good way of eliminating students that have to be designated as being quarantined and so only students and staff that are positive need to stay home; if not, you come to school,” Ganem said. 

The testing is only until April 1st, which is through the Department of Education, and then they’ll recess it after. 

“We know that there are some people who are going to say ‘I’m feeling really good today, I don’t have any symptoms or anything,’ so they might not [test],” Ganem said. “But the purpose of this is continually testing yourself until we get through this wave.” 

Although the required mask rule at schools has been straightforward and posted on doors outside of buildings, Ganem noted that sometimes those rules aren’t followed by community members. 

“I think the most difficult thing is just making sure our visitors when they’re coming into our building are following the requirements of mask wearing,” Ganem said. “Sometimes when people from our community come into our buildings for sporting events or whatever, having to remind them, even though there are signs on the door, ‘You go to wear a mask.'”

The District also distributed N95 masks to teachers the week they returned to school after break. The N95 masks have been proven to be the highest level of protection against COVID-19, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

“The positive cases due to school related contact is very low and it’s really happening in our community. Older kids, be mindful of the partying and gathering and stuff like that.” Ganem said. “We really want to keep each other safe. The nurses have done a phenomenal job, we couldn’t have done it without them.”