Newton Students To Stay Home As New England Coronavirus Cases Increase

NEWTON, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — Newton is the latest school district to ask some of its students and staff to stay home after recent travel abroad.

The decision comes just a few days after a group of 19 students, two staff, and a retired teacher from Newton North High School returned from a month-long student exchange trip to Italy, where the coronavirus has been spreading.

None of the students or staff have shown symptoms of the virus, and nobody is sick, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said.

"We are following the guidance from both the CDC and the Mass Department of Health, and everyone is noticing that there is an elevated risk in Italy," Fuller said. "As those students and adults returned, we were following their guidance, and suggesting that they postpone going back to school."

Newton Superintendent of Schools David Fleishman said the students have been asked to monitor their health, and that his office would provide updates to the exchange families upon further direction from the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services.

"This is an unsettling time for our community, our staff, and our students," Fleishman said. "The well-being of our students and staff is our top priority."

Fleishman sent an update to NPS families over the weekend announcing the decision.

"To prevent any potential exposure [of COVID-19] to our staff and students, we are implementing federal guidance around returning travelers," the statement said. "We made a decision to require students and staff from Newton North who returned from Italy on Saturday, Feb. 29th, to stay home from school beginning ... March 2nd, until further notice."

Students will continue their schoolwork while out of classes.

Newton North High School (WBZ NewsRadio/James Rojas)

(James Rojas WBZ/Twitter)

The notice to Newton families comes just hours after Rhode Island's Department of Health announced two cases of coronavirus in that state. Both patients also recently returned from a school trip to Italy.

The first person to be diagnosed was a man in his 40s who had returned from Italy in mid-February. He had been on a trip organized by Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket. That prompted dozens of people to self-quarantine while the school was being sanitized. Hours later, a teenage girl who had also been on that trip tested positive for the virus. A third person, a woman in her 30s, is also being tested.

"All 38 of the people who went on this trip will be self-monitoring for symptoms at home for 14 days with public health supervision," the Rhode Island Department of Health said in a statement. "They have been instructed to not go to school or work and to remain at home for these 14 days."

Newton North is at least the second Massachusetts school to order its students who have recently been to Europe to stay home as a precaution.

Over the weekend, Bellingham High School students were told to stay home if they had traveled to places where coronavirus is present during Spring Break. "With the Bellingham Board of Health's recommendation, the school system is working diligently to monitor documented cases of the flu (and other viruses should they arise), and monitor school attendance," the Bellingham High statement said.

Fleishman said the decision to ask those who returned from Italy to stay home is out of "an abundance of caution," and comes after consultation with the state Department of Public Health and the Newton Health and Human Services department.

"The city-wide Emergency Management Team has formed a committee to apply our robust emergency preparedness plans to possible scenarios around this infectious disease," Fleishman said. "While this specific virus is a new one, managing community spread of disease is not new and out public health professionals are well prepared."

The state DPH is advising the public to wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home if you're sick.

WBZ NewsRadio's James Rojas (@JamesRojasWBZ) reports:

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