For the first time since early December, coronavirus cases among both students and staff in Massachusetts public school have decreased, according to data released Thursday.
State education leaders reported 28,151 new cases among public school students and 4,758 among staff members for the week that ended Wednesday.
The 32,909 total cases were 15,505 fewer, or about 32 percent fewer, than those reported last week. The decrease in school cases comes as data shows that cases statewide have peaked after an Omicron-fueled surge.
From Jan. 13 to Jan. 19, about 3.06 percent of students and 3.4 percent of staff members reported positive cases of the coronavirus to their school leaders. About 920,000 students across the state are attending school in person, and about 140,000 staff members are inside school buildings.
Massachusetts school districts are required to report positive cases among students and employees to the state, though the reports do not indicate how many of the people had been inside school buildings. Local school leaders are asked to report any cases among enrolled students or employed staff members, regardless of whether they had been at school since their positive test.
Just about 1,000 schools participated during the last academic year, compared to more than 2,200 that have signed up to participate this year. It’s not clear how many schools are actively participating in testing programs, but 2,152 have reported testing data for the one-week period that ended Sunday.
For the week that ended Sunday, 52,520 pooled tests were processed, with a pool positivity rate of 13.6 percent, down almost 7 percentage points from last week. In the test-and-stay program, which tests students and staff who were close contacts of people who tested positive for the virus, 72,043 tests were conducted, and 68,940 tests came back negative. Governor Baker announced this week that schools would soon be allowed to phase out the test-and-stay program if they offer weekly rapid at-home COVID-19 tests to staffers and students as a part of a new state initiative.
For the week ending Wednesday, the districts that reported the highest number of cases were Boston Public Schools, which reported 984 cases among students and 289 among staff; Worcester Public Schools, which reported 1042 cases among students and 162 among staff; and Springfield Public Schools, which reported 786 cases among students and 89 among staff.
Reported cases among students and staff also are not an indication that in-school transmission has occurred, or that there was a cluster of cases, which is defined by the state Department of Public Health as two or more confirmed Massachusetts cases with a common exposure. From Dec. 19 to Jan. 15, there were 73 clusters in Massachusetts public, private, special education, and boarding schools.
The cases reported from school leaders are among those reported by the state public health agency every day. During the two-week period from Jan. 2 to Jan. 15, the state reported 17,106 cases among children from birth to age 4, 21,702 cases among kids ages 5 to 9, 22,852 cases among kids ages 10 to 14, and 24,970 cases among teenagers ages 15 to 19.
Among people under age 20, kids ages 5 to 9 had the highest rate of COVID-19 infection for the two-week period: 5,874 people per 100,000.
Experts also have repeatedly emphasized that while many children remain unvaccinated, COVID-19 does not cause severe illness for most children that contract it. From Jan. 2 to Jan. 15, 262 people under age 20 in Massachusetts were hospitalized, and 4 people in that age group died.
Colleen Cronin can be reached at email@example.com.