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Newark COVID cases decline as students settle back into in-person learning

School guard take students’ temperature at the entrance to Camden Street Elementary School.

The Newark Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard shows there were 88 staff cases and 48 student cases during the first week back to full-time in-person instruction. District schools were closed the first two weeks of January for remote learning due to a surge in cases last month.

Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat

Newark Public Schools saw a decline in coronavirus cases last week as the district reopened its doors for in-person instruction after two weeks of remote learning, according to the district’s dashboard.

Superintendent Roger León, speaking at a virtual school board retreat on Saturday, said the two-week remote learning period was “extremely successful” in helping to slow the spread of the virus in schools.

The district had pivoted to remote instruction on Jan. 3 as cases surged across the district, city, and state. Last week, Newark families felt a mix of emotions as students went back to in-person learning.

There were 88 staff cases reported the week of Jan. 17, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, which was updated on Monday. Staff cases took a significant plunge from the 566 cases reported the week of Dec. 27.

Last week, there were 48 student cases, the dashboard shows. Ann Street Elementary School reported 13 student cases, the highest number across the district for one school. Other schools were reporting between one to six cases last week.

León said that fewer than 15 classroom teachers tested positive last week, a stark difference from the hundreds that were testing positive just a few weeks ago.

León added that all staff were required to get tested in the days after the holidays. The week of Jan. 3, 338 staff cases were reported, which dropped to 186 the following week.

“That strategy enabled us to identify, isolate, and begin to quarantine before anyone was back,” León said of the decision to switch to remote learning after the break.

On Friday, 10 district employees tested positive, of which three were classroom teachers, he said. That same day, eight students tested positive, he added. Those numbers were a dramatic decrease from the numbers the district saw mid-December.

It’s unclear how many students are participating in the district’s weekly COVID testing program. As of Dec. 21, there were around 12,000 students, or just over a third of the district student population, who opted in.

At the virtual retreat meeting on Saturday, district officials did not give an update on the testing program. Several emails to the district requesting an update on the number of students who have submitted consent forms have gone unanswered.

Gov. Phil Murphy, at a coronavirus briefing in Trenton on Monday, said the state was seeing a downward trend of cases. State officials said cases and hospitalizations likely peaked two weeks ago.

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