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COVID outbreak at Morningside in Pittsfield shuts second grade through Thanksgiving

Exterior of Morningside school

Pittsfield school officials have shut the second grade at Morningside Community School, after 15 students and two teachers in that grade tested positive for the coronavirus. 

PITTSFIELD — Second graders at Morningside Community School have been sent home to quarantine until after the Thanksgiving holiday, because of a coronavirus outbreak in that grade.

City school officials, in consultation with the Pittsfield Health Department, state epidemiologists and representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Education, made the decision Thursday to shut the second grade, according to Eric Lamoureaux, the district’s emergency and safety coordinator. He said 15 students and two staff members from the second grade have tested positive for COVID-19 since Monday.

Lamoureaux said students were being provided with paper worksheets to complete over the break and would be allowed to return to school Nov. 29.

School and Health Department officials said there is no metric for how many cases would trigger further grade or school closures.

For most of the school year, Morningside largely has been in line with other district elementary schools, reporting only 10 student cases and no staff cases up until November.

On Saturday, the district reported six active student cases from the Morningside community. By Thursday, the district reported 27 active student cases and two staff cases from the school community.

“Looking back at where we started with some of these second grade cases at the end of last week, [contact tracers] had some of the names down as a cluster for one of our local before- and after-school agencies,” Lamoureaux said. “They were already on a list for that and then they were in our first group of positives that we had.”

In the past week, at least two day care providers have closed their facilities for cleaning and quarantine after COVID cases were reported. Lamoureaux attributed some of the school district cases to those providers, as well as weekend events like birthday parties and the fact that several of the student cases were asymptomatic.

Pat Tremblay, the public health nursing coordinator with the city’s Health Department, said that the day care providers she has worked with have been proactive about following coronavirus-mitigation practices and “working very diligently to keep children safe.”

“I’m not seeing huge numbers of positives in the areas where we have clusters,” Tremblay said. “It’s usually about two or three people.

“I don’t think that there’s any one place that has a big issue,” she added.

Tremblay said that the child cases that the department is seeing typically are less severe and often asymptomatic. She added that because children aren’t experiencing severe symptoms, it’s easier for those cases to move through the community undetected.

At Morningside, Lamoureaux estimated that about one-third of the cases in the past week were asymptomatic cases that were caught during the district’s test-and-stay program, one-third were caught through symptomatic testing and one-third were caught from families reporting a positive test conducted outside school district testing.

“When they’re asymptomatic, it’s easier to spread,” Tremblay said.

Coronavirus cases have increased steadily throughout the city since October, climbing in an apparent fourth wave. The 14-day average daily case rate per 100,000 people reached 46 cases Wednesday, a rate not seen in the city since January.

There were an estimated 126 actively contagious coronavirus cases in Pittsfield as of Wednesday.

Tremblay attributed the new wave of cases to changing social behaviors, rather than the situation within child care facilities or schools.

“Again, as it’s getting cooler and we’re doing that socializing inside, it makes a big difference,” Tremblay said. “I think it’s probably still just our family practices, as we’ve been more able to get together with friends and family.”

Lamoureux and Tremblay said they anticipate the number of coronavirus cases to continue to rise as the city enters the winter months, peaking around January, in a pattern similar to last year’s.

Tremblay reiterated the importance of the coronavirus vaccines, boosters and the annual flu shot as the best defense against sickness this winter. She also said good hand washing, masking and distancing practices still are effective ways to slow the virus’ spread through the community.

“COVID is something we’re going to be living with for a very long time,” she said. “We’re still in the very early stages, and we’re working together as a community to find the best ways to live with this.”

Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at mbritton@berkshireeagle.com or

413-496-6149.

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