By Stuart Foster, Contributing Writer
WESTBOROUGH – Westborough Superintendent Amber Bock gave an update about vaccination rates in the Westborough school system at a School Committee meeting on Sept. 22.
Bock said that the Westborough school faculty had a 96.6 percent vaccination rate, with 2.7 percent unvaccinated and 0.5 percent partially vaccinated. A single person was medically exempt.
“I feel very, very good, I think this gives us one of our absolute best benchmark districts in terms of vaccination and health benchmarks,” Bock said.
Eighty-seven percent of high school students, Bock said, are fully or partially-vaccinated. That metric sits at 83 percent among students at Gibbons Middle School. She said the bulk of these are fully vaccinated.
Twenty students in sixth grade have been vaccinated, accounting for a smaller portion of their grade compared to higher grades. That, Bock said, is because those students mostly have not reached the age of eligibility to receive vaccines.
Bock said that the student vaccination rates are based on the online SNAP database that school nurses have access to. This, she said, can be inexhaustive because some vaccination sites do not upload data into SNAP. Students who move to a new town might also not have their data put in SNAP immediately.
“Those are also incredibly good numbers, and again, probably low in the estimates,” Bock said.
Bock said that there had been ten COVID-19 cases among faculty members and students since the start of this school year. She said that three of those cases had been in school and required contact tracing.
Bock said that test and stay diagnostic COVID-19 testing options were used in all three cases. Contact tracing came back negative for each one, with no additional coronavirus infections identified.
“It’s exceptionally good data for us,” Bock said. “Since the opening of school, the test and stay model has been well-received by people, utilized and on-the-ground for the contact tracing that was required, worked effectively and all came back negative.”
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced on Sept. 27 that the mask mandate in schools would remain in effect through Nov. 1.
“The mask requirement is an important additional measure to keep students safe in school at this time,” read a statement.
Previously set to expire on Oct. 1, the mandate will now run through the end of October. Schools with vaccination rates over 80 percent, though, may have the option to let vaccinated students remove their masks on Oct. 15 under the current plan.
Prior to that announcement from the state, Bock said that Westborough Public Schools would stay the course and await further recommendations from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. She added that any potential updates to the Westborough Public Schools COVID-19 protocol would be brought to School Committee for discussion.
This could potentially include giving communities flexibility for their protocols based on their vaccination rates. Bock said that in that case, though, any changes would have to come as a result of a thorough and careful process.
“Clearly our rate would merit that we end up having that discussion, but I think that there needs to be good process around that, that involves lots of discussion,” Bock said. “I just want to be reassuring people, there’s no quick decision to be made here.”
Bock also thanked the Westborough Fire Department and Police Department for providing vaccination opportunities for people in Westborough, calling the result an impressive payoff.