An individual at the Hillcrest School in Morris Township has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Morris School District reported on Monday.
It’s the first known case within the 10-school regional district since classes started last week.
Over the weekend, the district also noted that one of its preschool partners, the Morristown Neighborhood House, has had someone test positive.
“The status of this situation is fluid, and we are monitoring it closely. We understand the level of concern regarding COVID-19,” the district said in a message to parents about Hillcrest.
While details were limited–the district cited health confidentiality laws–this much was disclosed:
The Hillcrest individual has not been present there since Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020–the second day of classes for the new school year.
Contact tracing has determined “the source of transmission to this individual was unrelated to our school or the Morris School District. The affected class and any other identified close contacts will complete the required 14-day quarantine at home.
“No other individuals in the affected class or among close contacts are reported to be exhibiting symptoms at this time. No exposure has occurred via MSD transportation in this case,” the district said.
All exposed areas of the school have been cleaned and disinfected, and Hillcrest continues to enforce pandemic protocols including mask wearing, social distancing, frequent hand washing, and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily, the district said.
“The local health department believes that given these mitigation strategies, it is unlikely that transmission has occurred in school,” according to the district.
Meanwhile, a preschool class will stay out of the Neighborhood House for a 14-day quarantine period. No other persons “are reported to be exhibiting symptoms at this time,” the district said.
Sanitization of the Neighborhood House building was completed on Sunday, and the nonprofit, which is part of Cornerstone Family Programs, “will continue to monitor the situation closely in partnership with the local health department and the Morris School District and will continue to follow health department protocols and guidance,” the district said.
“Teachers and students from the affected classroom are following the recommended 14-day self-quarantine, no one else is reporting symptoms, staff have tested negative, and all cleaning and disinfecting protocols have been followed,” Patrice Picard, CEO of Cornerstone, told Morristown Green.
“We routinely test our staff and just ran an eight-week summer camp with no cases; we suspect that transmission did not come from within our building but remain vigilant,” Picard said.
The 1,000-employee district serves 5,700 pupils from Morristown, Morris Township and (for high school) Morris Plains. Classes were shut down in mid-March by the pandemic. They have reopened with in-person instruction for grades K-5, and alternating in-school and remote instruction for grades 6-12.
Before the semester started, Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast advised parents to expect closures on short notice and a switch to all-virtual instruction. A statement issued just before the Sept. 8 start of classes laid out how closures might work:
The decision to quarantine a classroom, close a school, or close the entire District to in-person instruction and move to all-virtual instruction for students and staff will depend on a number of factors, including the specifics of the positive case and the risk level for Morris County based on the NJ Regional Risk Matrix (see NJ Department of Health Guidelines). Possible scenario closures are outlined on Page 15 of these guidelines, but please bear in mind that the District will often take action more conservatively than the DOH and may close a specific class or multiple classes, a school or all schools, more readily than their guidelines direct.
The district said it’s guided by local health officials in identifying close contacts–defined as someone who has been within six feet of an infected person for a period of at least 10 minutes.
This story was updated to include comments from Cornerstone C.E.O. Patrice Picard.