HPS COVID case numbers spiked last week; Education commissioner extends in-school mask mandate

January 11, 2022 By Carol Britton Meyer

While there were 290 positive COVID-19 cases in the Hingham Public Schools last week, including 45 staff members, according to Interim Supt. Gary Maestas, "things seem to be a little bit better so far this week."

He's hopeful, though, that the COVID numbers will continue to decline over the next couple of weeks, he told the School Committee Monday night. "One of the biggest challenges, as is the case nationally, is that most of the COVID cases are outside transmissions. Very few cases are from internal transmissions because we have a somewhat controlled environment [with health and safety protocols in place] in our buildings. These measures have helped to keep our schools open."

Maestas noted that it was difficult for administrators, school nurses, teachers, and other staff to "get anything done" other than to address COVID-related issues last week.

Meanwhile, Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley today extended the in-school mask mandate until at least the end of February.

The interim superintendent also provided a vaccination status update. Massachusetts school districts still have the option of lifting the mask mandate for school buildings in which at least 80 percent of students and staff combined are vaccinated, with guidance from local health officials.

Vaccinated teachers in Hingham have been asked to provide proof of vaccination, and the results so far -- although inconclusive at this point pending receipt of vaccination information from additional teachers -- indicate the following number of vaccinated teaching staff:

  • Hingham High School -- of 102 teachers, 66 are reported to be vaccinated at this time, or 65 percent;
  • Hingham Middle School -- of 108 teachers, 96 are vaccinated, or 89 percent;
  • Plymouth River School -- of 33 teachers, 21 are vaccinated, or 64 percent;
  • Foster School -- of 41 teachers, 15 are vaccinated, or 37 percent;
  • East School -- of 45 teachers, 32 have reported that they are vaccinated, or 71 percent;
  • South School -- of 24 teachers, 13 are vaccinated, or 54 percent.

"I believe these numbers to be incomplete," Maestas said. "Hopefully, we will get the additional information [for the remainder of vaccinated teachers] by the next School Committee meeting."

Teachers providing vaccination data to the HPS is part of ongoing Hingham Education Association contract negotiations with the School Committee, according to Maestas.

Staff vaccination numbers are expected to be reported once their contract negotiations are complete, he said.

The HPS is also in the process of creating a student vaccination data base using state data. "We have a number of students identified as having been vaccinated, and we're going to send letters to the parents of students not showing up as vaccinated or fully vaccinated to let them know we are trying to collect this information," Maestas said.  "All the information will be kept confidential. We're just looking for the overall numbers."

Finding a secure way for parents to easily report their children's vaccination status was also discussed. While not required to submit this information, doing so will help the HPS determine the vaccination status of each building, Maestas said.

Matt Cosman said that while he appreciates that last week was difficult, he doesn't understand why the HPS "is so far behind other towns in collecting vaccination data," and that some other school districts have already applied for a mask exemption.

Each district's school committee makes its own decision, according to School Committee Chair Kerry Ni.

Maestas explained that some school districts have software that connects directly to the state vaccination data base but that there have been delays in HPS getting its software online. "The system is finally working," he said.

In other business at the meeting, Barbara McAlvin asked when the School Committee would resume in-person meetings. While the board hasn't discussed this question yet, Ni said when the committee met in person recently, there were numerous requests to go back to the Zoom platform, "because [virtual] meetings are more accessible for parents."

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