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Four Members in the Bethel Public Schools Community (in Three Schools) Tested Positive for COVID-19, said Dr. Carver; But Are School and Town Officials Tracking Transmission Accurately?

Report by Paula Antolini, November 24, 2020, 10:33AM EDT

Saturday, September 19, 2020, young adults/students socializing in the Bethel Town Gazebo, sitting arm to arm and not wearing masks. We have blurred the faces to protect the identities, and we do not know if these are Bethel students or students from other towns, but the photo shows the blatant disregard for COVID-19 distancing rules and regulations.
No one else was in the gazebo but these individuals, at the time.
(Photo ©2020 BETHEL ADVOCATE / Paula Antolini)

Are you wondering how COVID-19 corona virus is spreading so quickly into the schools?

The photo above that was shot on a typical Saturday afternoon in Bethel, on September 19, 2020, at the town gazebo, might give us a hint. It reveals eight young adults/students, sitting arm to arm, socializing, not wearing masks, in total disregard for COVID-19 school and state rules and regulations under Governor Ned Lamont’s most recent Executive Orders. (We have blurred the faces to protect the identities, and we do not know if these are Bethel students or students from other towns, but the photo shows the blatant disregard for COVID-19 distancing rules and regulations. No one else was in the gazebo but these individuals, at the time.)

We spoke to Dr. Christine Carver, Superintendent of Bethel Public Schools, shortly after this incident occurred, but she had no interest in viewing the photo or investigating the incident even after we described the incident to her.

In fact, Dr. Carver stated in a recent letter to parents/guardians/staff on November 21, 2020, “Tonight, November 21, 2020, we were notified that four more members of the Bethel School community have tested positive for COVID-19. There were two more cases associated with Johnson School, one at Rockwell School, and one at Bethel High School. These exposures affected a number of students and staff. We are in the process of calling all students and staff members who are considered to be direct contacts. Those determined to be “direct contacts” are defined as individuals who were within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period (with or without a mask), starting from 48 hours before the person began feeling ill or 48 hours prior to a positive test of an asymptomatic individual.”

As a result, ALL FIVE BETHEL PUBLIC SCHOOLS have been required to go back to full-time distance learning, which are Berry, Rockwell, Johnson, BMS and due to another recent transmission, Bethel High School.

The letter from Nov. 21st states, “At this point, the amount of cases and the number of staff who need to quarantine creates an inability to sufficiently cover all classes. Therefore, the Bethel Public Schools (all schools) will move to distance learning through December 4th, anticipating a return on December 7th. We will assess the health conditions within our school community by Wednesday, December 2nd to confirm the return date. If it is deemed appropriate to return on that date, we will follow the chart below.

View letter in full, with charts, below.

Here are the links in the letter above:

reopening plan: https://sites.google.com/bethel.k12.ct.us/bethel-public-schools-covid-19/home

symptoms: https://sites.google.com/bethel.k12.ct.us/bethel-public-schools-covid-19/safety-of-students-and-staff/bps-plan-for-safety-of-students-staff/bps-containment-plan?authuser=0

my last communication: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1B4DDZzPWXw-fkf-V_VwzOpY68zxwApPH/view

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However, on November 22, 2020, Dr. Carver posted an additional message on Facebook indicating, “Yes, like the town, state and country, we have seen an increase in cases of staff and students. In consultation with the Department of Public Health, through contact tracing, the main source of transmissions is still as a result of social gatherings and within families.” (View Carver’s additional Facebook message, in full, below.)

In another letter to parents/guardians/staff on November 22, 2020, Assistant Superintendent Kristen Brooks (filling in for Carver’s absence because of surgery) stated, “Today, November 22, 2020, we were notified that another member of the Rockwell School community tested positive for COVID-19. The individual was last in school on Tuesday, November 17th. The district has continually communicated that the response to an exposure is very case-specific. In this instance, a classroom and some additional staff members were identified as direct contacts. We were able to reach all direct contacts today to notify them for the need to quarantine.” and also, “In consultation with the Department of Public Health and as communicated yesterday by the Superintendent, the amount of cases and the number of staff who need to quarantine creates an inability to sufficiently cover all classes.”

This lead to full time distance learning.

In a letter to parents/guardians/staff on November 20, 2020, Bethel Board of Eduction Chair Melanie O’Brien stated, “The more the community virus infection rate increases, the more likely that COVID positive incidents in our schools will increase. If the increase results in inadequate staffing or unacceptable risk to students and staff, the return to partial (hybrid model) or full closure (distance learning) would result. Our main objective is to keep students and staff healthy and schools open to the extent possible.

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Message added from Bethel Public Schools Superintendent 11-22-20:

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In a November 19, 2020 letter to parents/guardians/staff, Dr. Carver stated in part, “Tonight, our administrative team and Health Coordinator, Lisa Davenport, met with our Director of Public Health, Laura Vasile, and our First Selectman, Matt Knickerbocker to review our school case data to determine if we should make adjustments to our learning model. After much consideration, review of current health data, district cases and community transmissions in Bethel, we have determined that it is appropriate to keep our current models outlined in the chart below.” The chart indicated a combination of distance and hybrid learning.

Now they have gone back to full time distance learning due to more outbreaks.

The letter also read, “…please know that the situation is fluid and there could be sudden changes based on health data. Please have your family plans ready to implement any of the learning models (in-person, hybrid, and remote).

In yet another November 19, 2020 letter to parents/guardians.staff, Carver stated, “Today, November 19, 2020, we were notified that a member of the Berry School community tested positive for COVID-19. The individual was last in school on Friday, November 13th. The district has continually communicated that the response to an exposure is very case-specific. In this instance, two classrooms and some additional staff members were identified as direct contacts. We were able to reach all direct contacts today to notify them for the need to quarantine.

In a letter on November 18, 2020 to parents/guardians/staff, Carver stated, “This evening, November 18, 2020, we were notified that a second member of the Bethel High School community tested positive for COVID-19, unrelated to any of the other cases. The individual was last in school on Friday, November 13th. The district has continually communicated that the response to an exposure is very case-specific. Due to the fact that the school is in hybrid, we had to quarantine a very limited number of students.

In another letter on November 18, 2020, to parents/guardians/staff, Carver stated, “Today, November 18, 2020, we were notified that a member of the Bethel High School and Bethel Middle School community has tested positive for COVID-19. The individual at BHS was last in school on November 12, 2020, for a limited time. This exposure was very limited to a small number of students and only one staff member. The individual at BMS was also last in school on November 12, 2020. While the BMS exposure affected only a cohort, it has a significant impact on staffing, due to the nature of the exposure and other staff members that were already on quarantine. Therefore, beginning tomorrow, through the Thanksgiving holiday, Bethel Middle School will be placed on Distance Learning. We anticipate returning to a hybrid schedule on November 30th. Again, this was due to staffing
issues, not due to exposures.”

There are many more “exposure” letters issued that go back months, but the above sample gives you an idea of the COVID-19 transmission in Bethel repeatedly in the schools

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So which is it? Transmissions are spread “as a result of social gatherings and within families” or is COVID-19 being spread other ways, possibly directly by teachers, administrators, school nurses, custodians, paraeducators, secretaries, technology staff, tutors, pupil personnel staff, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers or students, inside the school, or elsewhere? Why do they, and and how can they absolutely, blame family gatherings?

How thorough is the school’s and town’s “contact tracing”? More importantly, how honest are individuals when they are questioned? How accurate are “contact tracing” methods? Does fear of loss of job or a student being ostracized influence their answers?

Do you think the young adults sitting in the Bethel Town Gazebo socializing with friends for “at least 15 minutes” (shown in photo, and who were there lot more than 15 minutes) were “defined as individuals who were within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period (with or without a mask)“? Dr. Carver did not seem to think this was important enough to look into.

Are parents/guardians asking enough questions of the school and town officials and Bethel Board of Education regarding safety from COVID-19 and tracing transmission?

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