WILMINGTON — In-person contagious cases of COVID-19 decreased in Delaware public schools for the second straight seven-day period as the state continues to look for ways to promote testing in schools.
There were 303 in-person contagious cases among public school students and an additional 57 cases among staff, tracked from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1, according to information released by the Delaware Division of Public Health on Wednesday. It represents 0.21% of the estimated 141,040 students who are back in public schools entirely in person this year — down from 0.26% (368 cases) the previous week.
The state has recorded a total of 1,189 in-person contagious cases among students so far this school year with 303 more among staff. Private school data is not yet available and will be released when those schools’ enrollment information is available later in the fall, according to DPH.
The state began tracking school data on Sept. 4.
Delaware does have an optional testing program through Quidel in school, utilizing rapid antigen tests to provide results in as little as 10 minutes, for families who wish to enroll their child in the testing program. Approximately 200 schools are participating in this program, according to the Delaware Department of Education, while some school boards have declined.
The testing is free and those who are enrolled are tested weekly or bi-weekly.
Gov. John Carney required masks to be worn in schools in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 but he said during his most recent COVID-19 press briefing he would not mandate the testing program.
“We tend to allow districts to make those decisions,” Gov. Carney said.
“It will be something that is going to be decided by the local boards of education or the executive board of a charter school,” added Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting.
Some school boards are still deciding whether to enroll.
Milford School District’s board voted unanimously to participate in its last meeting on Sept. 20. Dr. Jason Peel, the district’s director of human resources and school climate, said if a child tests positive in the antigen test, they would then be required to take a PCR test. If the PCR test confirms the positive result, they would then quarantine for the necessary length of time.
“This is actually something our parents have asked for and it is a way to be proactive,” said Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Milford’s superintendent.
Material has been sent out via emails in participating districts as a way to increase enrollment in the voluntary program.
“I will say at this point in time participation rates are very low,” said Polytech School District Superintendent Dr. Amelia Hodges at its most recent board meeting. “We’re hoping we have increased participation as people learn more about the program. We are continuing to communicate that information on a regular basis so our families are aware of this service.”
Meanwhile another free COVID-19 testing program arrived in Delaware on Wednesday.
The UrbanPromise School in Wilmington, a Christian pre-K-6 private school, became the first Delaware school to enroll in Operation Expanded Testing, on behalf of Eurofins Clinical. This will provide weekly testing using PCR tests for its approximately 80 students and faculty.
UrbanPromise’s principal Dionne Xavier said the weekly testing will hope keep its doors open.
“We learned about Operation Expanded Testing right as we were establishing our policies and quickly realized how useful it would be to have regular testing at our disposal,” Ms. Xavier said. “Operation Expanded Testing met that need for our school. It comes with no cost, is easy to use, and helps us stay safe.”
Some school districts, such as Cape Henlopen and Caesar Rodney, have provided dashboards on their websites for the public to track the amount of positive cases and individuals in quarantine. These statistics might differ from the DPH’s dashboard, which only shows in-person contagious cases.
In-person contagious cases are defined by DPH as “persons who were present at school as far back as 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms (or test date if no symptoms). The source of infection of these cases cannot be attributed to schools, nor is it known that they are the source of infection to others in schools.”
Caesar Rodney School District has accounted for the most in-person contagious cases among both students and staff this school year with 110 and 33, respectively. The 110 cases in students make up 1.3% of the estimated 8,266 students in the district this year.
Red Clay Consolidated District recorded the most student cases for the week of Sept. 25-Oct. 1 with 34, followed by 29 in the Brandywine School District and 28 in the Appoquinimink School District.
Sussex Technical School District, which has an estimated 1,295 students, remained the only district to not record an in-person contagious case in a student so far this school year.
Public school enrollment data is preliminary and will be finalized in late October or early November, according to DPH. The data published Wednesday on the state’s coronavirus website was for all of Delaware’s public schools, which include 19 districts and all charter schools. Delaware has 23 charter schools, which are a part of the public school system.