Haverhill’s In-Person Learning Continues as Officials Rethink the Role of COVID-19 Clusters

Allison Heartquist, mayoral chief of staff. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Despite Haverhill’s COVID-19 red zone ranking for the third straight week, in-person learning at Haverhill Public Schools will continue.

Officials previously said a continuing high-risk code would be a trigger for shutting down in-person learning, but both state and city officials now say other factors—such as isolated clusters—are in play. Speaking at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Allison Heartquist, chief of staff to Mayor James J. Fiorentini read a statement from Assistant School Superintendent Michael Pfifferling saying schools will remain open.

“There’s no spread within the schools. None of the cases with the students and the staff have been traced back to the schools. They are staying steady with the plan at this point,” she quoted Pfifferling as saying.

Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien noted the state will review the numbers and likely make a decision later this week, but there are other considerations.

“They have to look at all the demographics. The fact that it was a nursing home, it was a family, our numbers have continued to go down. I’m not sure how that impacts their decision making, but I believe they are going to want to keep schools open as much as they can,” she said.

As WHAV previously reported, Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said the state is planning updates to the stoplight metric that measures community COVID-19 transmission risks. “We’ve seen how those places can skew a city’s or town’s data, and so we’re hoping that when the new metric comes out it will take that into account,” Riley told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education during a meeting in Malden.

In other developments, Heartquist told the Council Haverhill’s numbers continue to improve. She said the city’s daily average COVID-19 number has dropped from 20 to 13 and the state has closed Haverhill’s pop-up testing program.

She also reported Lakeview House nursing home, which experienced a coronavirus outbreak late last month, is doing much better. She encouraged all residents to get a flu shot as soon as possible, noting it is important not to have hospitals swamped with flu sufferers this winter in case there is a resurgence of COVID-19.

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