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Covid halts in-person Pilgrim classes

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More than 70 students and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at Pilgrim High School at the time of publication, according to Superintendent Lynn Dambruch. The outbreak occurred following the school’s outdoor homecoming event on Nov. 6. 

The number of students and staff who tested positive and had COVID-19 led the District to go with distance learning at the school for the entire week. 

“A recent school-related gathering has contributed to a cluster of COVID-19 cases among students and staff. As of Nov. 15, there has been a concerning uptick in COVID-19 cases identified among Pilgrim High students and staff,” a letter from the Rhode Island Department of Health stated. “To prevent further spread of the virus both within our school and in our community, we strongly recommend that all students and staff get tested for COVID-19.”

On Wednesday morning RIDOH hosted a COVID-19 testing clinic in the Pilgrim cafeteria. According to Dambruch 310 students and staff member were tested. The tests conducted were PCR tests and the School District hopes to have the test results in by Thursday or Friday at which time the decision will be made on in-person classes next week. 

Dambruch said Tuesday, “We are hosting a COVID testing site at Pilgrim High School on Wednesday for students and staff members.  The data from the testing will determine whether or not DL will go past the week.”

The Nov. 6 homecoming event consisted of a tent outdoors, with food for the students indoors. 

Dambruch said “several COVID protocols were not followed at the Pilgrim Homecoming Dance.”

She cited that students and staff members were seen without masks indoors. Masks are required inside all school buildings except when eating and drinking. 

She also noted that RIDOH guidelines for that type of event calls for students to be seated at tables while eating and drinking and to be in assigned tables with their pods, as a way to help with contact tracing. 

She said according to RIDOH guidelines for events with food they should’ve had a maximum for 300 students but said while they are still determining the exact number of people who attended, they know more than 300 were in attendance. 

Another issue that she pointed to was the outdoor tent. She said that both sides of it were supposed to be open. Apart from the entrance, a Beacon reporter at the event found the sides closed.

Mayor Frank Picozzi on Tuesday said he wished they weren’t in this situation. 

“I wish they stuck to protocols, it's a bad situation now,” he said. 

Richard Denningham, the Drama Club coordinator for Pilgrim announced on Facebook Tuesday morning that the performance scheduled for this weekend would be postponed. 

“Due to the ongoing COVID situation at Pilgrim High School, the Pilgrim Players Drama Club will be postponing this weekend's performances of ANYTHING GOES,” Denningham said. “Please stay tuned for more information, as we hope to reschedule for early 2022.”

Dambruch on Wednesday afternoon said they would know more about the annual Thanksgiving football game this weekend.

Asked Monday if RIDOH has a threshold for the number of positive cases there can be before they recommend a school goes to distance learning, Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for RIDOH said, “there is not a threshold. We work with each school individually and make recommendations that are best suited to that school’s circumstances.”

On Tuesday, School Committee Chair Judy Cobden said, “It’s very unfortunate.”

“ I hope all Pilgrim parents utilize the testing clinic on Wednesday and have their Pilgrim kids tested,” she said.  RIDOH recommendations 

l If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, stay home, isolate, and get tested. ? Get tested whether or not you are fully vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing most infections. However, like other vaccines, they are not 100% effective. People who get vaccine breakthrough infections can be contagious. 

l Wear a mask when indoors in public places. Even if you are fully vaccinated, if you live in an area with substantial or high transmission of COVID-19, you – as well as your family and community – will be better protected if you wear a mask when you are in indoor public places. Kent county is currently designated as an area of high transmission. 

l Wear a mask when outdoors in crowded places. The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and CDC guidance states that during high transmission rates in the community, mask wearing is recommended even if fully vaccinated. 

l Get vaccinated for COVID-19 if you have not already. Getting vaccinated is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to prevent infection by Delta or other variants. If you get COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated, are less likely to develop serious illness than those who are unvaccinated and get COVID-19. 

l Get vaccinated for the Flu. While last year there was little Influenza activity in Rhode Island, we are now seeing the reemergence of Influenza in the community.

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