WORCESTER, Mass. - Just three weeks into the school year, Worcester Public Schools reports 97 positive COVID-19 cases in students and 49 in staff since the first day of school.
"We didn't expect this," said Rob Pezzella, safety director of Worcester Public Schools.
Pezzella said he hopes to combat the spread of the virus by expanding the district's testing efforts and keeping as many healthy students in the classroom as possible.
"We have to become very proactive and develop a testing program that we hope can keep our students and staff in school," Pezzella said. "They have to be tested in order to ensure that is going to happen"
Starting Wednesday, the district will be offering drive-thru testing at Sullivan Middle School for anyone who is experiencing symptoms. For any close contact without symptoms, they can participate in the test and stay option.
"Any student that is unvaccinated or vaccinated and comes in close with someone positive, they will participate in test and stay in order to stay in school," Pezzella said. "They have to test negative five consecutive days"
An emergency order in the city of Worcester requires students and staff to wear masks indoors and on transportation. City health leaders said masks are one of the best way to keep people protected.
"I'm not expecting huge numbers of sick, sick kids, fortunately," said Dr. Michael Hirsh, Worcester's medical director.
Dr. Hirsh also said there is no such thing as being too safe when it comes to protecting children.
"I don't know what the effect is if you get this at age six or age seven," Dr. Hirsh said. "We just don't understand it and we haven't been studying it long enough. It seems like we've been in this pandemic forever, but it still has only been 20 months. I just don't want to gamble with kids."