Covid Update: Southborough numbers increase, status now “Yellow” (Updated)

Covid 19 in Southborough as of Sept 30
(click to enlarge)

Since I reported on the new mini-spike in confirmed cases of Covid-19 last week, three more cases have been reported. The increase in cases per week is the largest since early May.

The state has designated Southborough a “yellow” community.* More concerning, it looks like it would only take a few more cases within the next week to push us into red. 

But, it appears that the decision on when schools would shut down Hybrid learning is more complicated than was presented in mid-August. Which means that we shouldn’t make assumptions that spiking red would automatically shift us into remote schooling. Scroll down for more on that.

Throughout the summer, Southborough has been gray on the state’s map with less than five cases at any time. Once that threshold is exceeded, the state’s assessment level is based on the number of new cases, averaged over the past 14 days. Given the population size of Southborough, 12 new cases within 14 days would exceed the Daily Case Rate of 8 per 100,000 residents.

As of an update to the Town’s website earlier today, nine cases have been confirmed within the past week. (Currently, seven are listed as still in isolation.)

In August, when presenting Medical Criteria for reopening schools, NSBORO Superintendent Gregory Martineau explained that if the towns are designated red, only remote learning will be allowed. Hybrid learning could be launched or maintained in yellow “in extenuating circumstances”. In subsequent meetings, administrators referred to looking at the data for infected cases to make a determination of what needed to be done.

Since then, posted FAQs and guidelines are less specific about the response to case rates at a community level:

Q: What is the threshold of cases for the school itself closing, and for how long?

A: We will be following the weekly public health data for our towns and consulting with the local public health nurse. Please see Guidelines for positive case or multiple cases in school

The linked guidelines only define actions based on cases in a school. There is no information on community level transmissions. Meanwhile, news reports earlier this months show the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education pressuring schools to hold in-person learning even if there is a short term “red” spike.  DESE’s Commissioner wrote they are only recommending remote learning for:

municipalities receiving a “red” designation three weeks in a row on the color-coded metric unless the district identifies other extenuating circumstances that prevent in-person instruction.

That may be the result of the realization by the state that Towns like ours can easily see a quick spike into red based on a small number of isolated cases. That doesn’t mean that the district will necessarily follow that guidance. But it does mean that if the Town’s public health officials and the school’s medical experts determined that going forward makes sense, they could.

Northborough already entered yellow last week and it appears that schools have been proceeding. Algonquin’s Hybrid learning is scheduled to begin on Tuesday. (K-5 began last week and middle school this week.)

As of early this  evening, the state’s map was still showing Southborough as gray based on old data. But the new dashboard posted tonight confirmed the Town is yellow.

[Editor’s Note: The state’s new data confusingly states that the case count for the last 14 days was 7 and the total positive tests was 10. Within the report, the color coded map indicates it is based on figures ending on the 26th. At that point, only 6 cases were reported.]

Below is an updated look at the demographics of infected patients. (Click to enlarge)

Covid 19 by age group as of Sept 30 Covid 19 by age group over time 9-30-20

Updated (10/1/20 2:30 pm): The Town posted two more cases, both patients under 20 years old. For updated graphs, click here.

*I had previously written that the new cases put us in the “green” category under state guidance. But, as I updated this morning, I had misread and incorrectly analyzed the data. The six cases pushed us just over the threshold into yellow.

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