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Hike in County's COVID-19 Positivity Rate Drives Mount Greylock District to Remote Learning
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
09:29PM / Thursday, December 03, 2020
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Two days after Mount Greylock regional middle-high school went fully remote, the entire PreK-12 district followed suit.
Mount Greylock Regional School District Superintendent Jason McCandless on Thursday notified families that Lanesborough Elementary and Williamstown Elementary will be going remote because of an increase in the county's COVID-19 positivity rate.
On Thursday, the commonwealth reported that the county's rate was 3.01 percent in the Weekly COVID-19 Public Health Report.
"This summer we negotiated for a 3 percent test positivity rate in Berkshire County as a component in our metrics to determine a move to remote learning with input from public health officials and knowledge that our staff, as well as our students, draw from more than Lanesborough and Williamstown," McCandless wrote. "Berkshire County was and is our best proxy for regional trends across our community."
Thirteen out of 14 Massachusetts counties saw an increase in the test positivity rate for the 14-day period that ended Dec. 1.
Berkshire County's increase likely stems from two sources: a rise in the number of people testing positive and a drop off in the number of overall tests.
Throughout September, October and most of November, the county's positivity rate was impacted by the aggressive COVID-19 testing program at Williams College, which sent its students home to finish the semester remotely (by design) on Nov. 20.
Between Aug. 17 and Dec. 2, Williams conducted 46,218 tests of students, faculty and staff with just 12 positives for a positivity rate of .026 percent.
Over the course of about 15 weeks of testing — including the period of Nov. 20 to Dec. 2, when the school was just testing staff — the college conducted nearly 3,100 tests per week (6,200 every two weeks).
The positivity rate for the county released on Thursday by the Department of Public Health is based on 20,731 tests in a two-week period, or 10,366 tests per week.
Dropping most of the Williams College tests out of the denominator meant that the county's 624 positive results in that period were enough to drive the positivity rate to 3.01 percent (actually, 3.00998).
In other words, hypothetically, if the county had the same 624 positive tests but 25,000 total tests (the 20,731 tests it actually had plus another 4,269 from the college), its positivity rate would have been 2.5 percent.
North County's other residential college also played a role. The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts conducted a testing program that produced 3,958 tests through Nov. 30, with a positivity rate of .2 percent, according to the college's website. MCLA moved all of its classes to remote after the Thanksgiving break, which reduced its need for testing starting in the middle of last week.
Thursday's announcement by McCandless means all three schools in the Mount Greylock Regional School District will be remote through at least the end of next week. The target for a return to hybrid learning is Monday, Dec. 14, pending the numbers released by Mass DPH next Thursday.
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