coronavirus graphic from CDC

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ATTLEBORO — The city’s public schools will return to the hybrid education model starting Jan. 19 after two weeks of post-holiday remote learning.

School Superintendent David Sawyer made the recommendation to the school committee during a meeting on Monday and the committee voted 9-0 to follow it.

Sawyer said part of his reasoning was that the city has maintained a daily average of around 50 cases per 100,000 people over the last three weeks, which indicates stability and reflects the number of cases that were occurring just prior to the decision to go to remote learning.

There’s been no huge spike since that time, although for the week ending Dec. 17 the numbers did jump to an average of 60 cases per day before falling back to the 50 level.

“We believe it is safe to return the district to operate in the hybrid mode starting on Tuesday,” Sawyer told the board.

The hybrid mode allows students to be in school for two days a week and to learn remotely for three days a week.

Meanwhile, Sawyer announced a plan to start a three-week pilot program for “pooled surveillance testing.”

The program, which will cover grades 2-12, requires parents to give permission for their children to participate.

Pooled surveillance testing requires each student and the teacher in a class to swab their nostrils and to put all the swabs in a single vial for testing.

If the vial comes back positive the whole class would be quarantined for 10 days, Sawyer said.

It’s hoped, however, that the program would head off an outbreak of the disease.

The pilot program is free, but when schools have to pay for testing it’s expected to cost $35,000 to $40,000 a week, Sawyer said. He said that cost is about 10 percent of what individual testing would be.

Testing is an important step toward getting kids back into school full time, he said.

Sawyer also announced that all classrooms in the nine city schools now have air purifiers, which is especially helpful in winter when windows should be closed.

The school department also released its latest coronavirus statistics on Monday.

For the week ending Jan. 8 there were 25 new cases in the district.

Twenty-five is a typical number of new cases for a week in the last month or so, when cases locally and statewide rose sharply.

Twenty of the cases were among students and five were among staff members.

In addition, there were 25 “close contacts,” with 16 among students and nine among teachers.

Those individuals must quarantine for 10 days.

All told, the district has recorded 223 cases of the virus and 1,021 close contacts.

The 223 cases is about about 3.32 percent of the approximately 6,700 students and staff. The 1,021 close contacts is equal to 15.23 percent.

George W. Rhodes can be reached at 508-236-0432.

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