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Schools Doing Well Fending Off Virus Outbreaks

Students entered Middle Township Middle School for in-person instruction Sept. 8

By Vince Conti

CORRECTION: This story incorrectly stated that one of the schools in the Dennis Township School District, listed on the state update of school outbreaks in September, closed as a result of the outbreak. The school remained open.

COURT HOUSE – As confirmed COVID-19 cases continue mounting, the county’s schools are doing well in troubled times. 

During a television interview, Gov. Phil Murphy said rumors that he is going to close the state’s 3,000 schools to stem the rising numbers of community spread cases of COVID-19 are false. He added that “back to school two months in has worked quite well. So far, so good.”  

In Cape May County, one can point to the schools as a bright spot, as cases here are growing rapidly in the community at large. 

Currently, one school announced a closure from Nov. 9-23. Wildwood Crest School District addressed a letter to school families Nov. 5, noting three new positive tests among students, all siblings.  

So far, positive tests at the school were not traced to in-school spread. Crest Memorial School was not listed on the state update of school outbreaks Nov. 11.  

The designation of a school outbreak by the state requires that two or more cases occur and that the cases can be traced to in-school spread.  

Currently, 56 schools across the state are on the list, involving 192 individual cases of in-school infection of either students or staff.  

In late September, three county schools, two public and one private, were listed. All three closed for varying periods and reopened without further incident.  

One of those schools in the Dennis Township School District had one student and four positive cases among staff at the start of the school year. After closing and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols, the school reopened and has since had one staff member test positive without connection to in-school contagion.  

Cape Christian Academy had two students test positive and closed for two weeks. No further cases surfaced. 

The same is true for the Upper Township School District, which had a brief bout with two positive cases early in the school year, closed and reopened.  

The school year has gone well enough that some districts increased the amount of in-person instruction.  

Lower Township Elementary School District Superintendent Jeffrey Samaniego moved the district from a hybrid in-person instruction model to four days a week of in-person learning.  

Parents who opted for safety and a 100% virtual program were invited to reconsider and bring their children back to the in-person learning program for the second marking period. 

Lower Cape May Regional (LCMR) Superintendent Joseph Castellucci said that this has been “the most unusual and difficult opening of a school year I have encountered in my over 35 years as a public school educator.”  

LCMR imposed a cautionary quarantine for members of one of the district’s sports teams due to possible exposure after game-related contact with an opposing player who was “presumed positive” for COVID-19.  

That incident had a low probability of actual exposure, but action to prevent school-related spread was immediately taken.  

In instances like the recent one at Crest Memorial School, anyone with close contact with the infected individuals were contacted by county health officials. 

Unlike spring, schools across the county are better prepared to revert to temporary periods of virtual instruction while waiting out quarantine periods and school sanitization 

With over 12,000 students back in school across the county, the limited outbreaks in the face of the virus’s rising community spread means this difficult opening of the school year referenced by Castellucci is going better than many expected.  

With three marking periods to go, the challenges remain. Things can change quickly, given the level of general community spread, but Murphy’s comment holds: “So far, so good.” 

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com. 

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