Student vax rate ticks up slightly, but still short of goal

SOUTHWICK — Vaccination rates for middle and high school-aged kids in Southwick, Tolland and Granville increased slightly in the past two weeks, but they are still far off from the 80 percent goal set by the state.

Superintendent Jennifer Willard said during the Sept. 7 Southwick-Tolland-Granville School Committee meeting that the vaccination rate for all 12- to 15-year-olds in Granville and Tolland increased to 55 percent with at least one dose, and 70 percent for 16- to 19-year-olds. In Southwick, the rate rose to 49 percent for 12- to 15-year-olds and 62 percent for 16- to 19-year-olds.

“Those are not huge increases, but they are increases,” said Willard.

She said she is still waiting to be able to report the vaccination rates for teachers, but is being advised to hold off doing so by the school’s legal counsel. She noted that most teachers that she knows are vaccinated.

The school year began rather smoothly when looking at mask wearing and attendance, but Willard announced that a single positive COVID-19 case had been detected in a member of the school community. Two people in the schools are considered to be close contacts with the person who tested positive.

Willard said that each Friday she will provide an update to show how many active COVID-19 cases there are among people in the district. She also hopes that she will be able to get more accurate vaccination data for students. While the figures Willard provided paint a picture of the vaccination rates for the three towns themselves, they may not accurately reflect the student population’s vaccination rate. Some young residents of the three communities do not attend Southwick schools, so their vaccination status would have no bearing on that of the school district.

She said the school nurses will have to get that data from the Massachusetts Immunization Information System, which historically contains information on which vaccines have been received by each resident of Massachusetts, even before the pandemic.

The 80 percent threshold was set by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as an incentive  for schools to increase their vaccination rates and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Individual schools that reach an 80 percent vaccination rate will be allowed to lift the mask mandate for vaccinated students after Oct. 1.

Willard also clarified how the “Test and Stay” system will work this year. The in-school rapid tests will be used only on close contacts of people who are confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19, and those who test negative will be allowed to remain in school unless a future test shows them as positive.

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