COVID-19 closes BMHS, spike prompts call for renewed vigilance

A new dashboard on Norwalk Public Schools website.

NORWALK, Conn. – Brien McMahon High School and the Center for Global Studies will remain closed through Nov. 2 due to the COVID-19 spike, Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella said Tuesday.

An additional 68 positive test results city-wide were reported Tuesday by Mayor Harry Rilling. Estrella said 10 of them were in the school community.

“We’ve been contact tracing, we’ve created a cleaning schedule, and we should be OK for tomorrow,” Estrella said. “Some of these cases were associated with the Brian McMahon case and it just shows that having quarantined our building for 14 days was the best decision as well as other cases throughout the district.”

There are 246 people currently quarantined due to school-related exposures – and you can find that data on the Norwalk Public Schools website. A new dashboard is making COVID-19 stats available without jamming everyone’s inbox with repetitive emails, NPS Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams said, during the Board of Education meeting.

The dashboard shows 22 school community members have tested positive since Oct. 12. Since Sept. 8, 576 people have been in quarantine due to 32 positive cases, and 17 schools have been involved.

While the dashboard will be updated weekly, there’s a lag in the data, NPS Nurse Coordinator JoAnne Malinowski said.

There were 500 tests done last weekend at the Stepping Stones Museum for Children and at Norwalk Community College (NCC), but “they” don’t have “anywhere near” all the results, she said. “Many times people will go to an urgent care, they will get a telephone call from the physician’s assistant at nine o’clock at night, and they’ll say that they’re positive. The health department may not get that positive result until two days later, three days later, there’s quite a lag in that. And it’s happening, not just with our health department, it’s all over the place.”

“Lately, we have had many parents that have gone for testing, calling principals calling nurses and saying my child tested positive, we take that information. And then I will give that information to the health department,” Malinowski said. “…We want to try and get in there as soon as possible to make sure all these kids are safe, and our staff members, and we don’t want them to come to school, if they’ve obviously been exposed.”

NPS was working on contact tracing as the Board was discussing the issue, calling people who may have been close to the infected individuals, Malinowski said.

“We are trying to keep everybody safe,” she said. “I can tell you one thing, that from what I’ve seen and the contacts, it’s been more community spread, and that’s really where we see it. Our measures that we’re doing in school, all of our mitigating measures are working. I feel very confident with that. Everybody is really wearing their mask, washing their hands, staying six feet apart, etc.”

Weekend events where people don’t wear a mask or social distance have led to the spikes, another NPS staffer said.

In most cases, NPS learns of the confirmed COVID case in time to contact possible spread subjects and have the affected school areas disinfected before the next day, Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo said. Cleaning can be “anywhere between one room and an entire school building depending upon the individual case.”

In one case, the school needed to be closed for a day, he said.

Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon said teachers are grateful that McMahon has closed.

“It is a very difficult time to be a teacher to be many things in society and to earn a living at this point,” she said. “But working with so many members of the public in our buildings is very unsettling. Nonetheless, we are committed to the work that we’re doing.”


Be ‘extra vigilant’

“Our positive cases are rising, as they are across the state and across much of the country. We are back to seeing numbers in Norwalk that we had in April,” Rilling said in Tuesday’s update.

The City is offering free drive-thru COVID-19 testing from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Stepping Stones Museum parking lot located at 303 West Ave., Rilling’s update said. “No appointment, insurance, symptoms, or doctor’s note is required to get tested. The courts and playground at Mathews Park will be closed for the day.”

“There is not one apparent cause or event that can be blamed for the recent rise in COVID-19 cases,” Rilling is quoted as saying. “At this point we can safely say community transmission is happening in Norwalk. We have to be extra vigilant to slow the spread of this virus. That means doing our best to limit non-essential trips to a store, trying to only have one person per house go out for an errand, and never forgetting to wear a face covering and socially distance.”

A chart from Mayor Harry Rilling’s Tuesday COVID-19 update.


Norwalk Dude October 21, 2020 at 7:31 am

My one argument regarding this is the lack of consistency when deal with Covid-19. In schools where there are cases reported, kids are still going. Even if at home, they were in the building the day before. Germs don’t take a day off. Plus… Why are the school athletic programs still going when 3 of the school we play have all had shut downs in the past 2 weeks? There is no consistency in regards to any decisions dealing with Covid and I fear we are only on the tip of the iceberg for wave #2 thanks to these inconsistencies.

Catattooed October 21, 2020 at 12:05 pm

Agreed Norwalk dude. If the cases at CGS and Mcmahon were enough to shut those schools down then how can we as parents feel confident about sending our kids to schools in the same district with hopes that those people infected did not have younger siblings attending the middle schools and elementary schools nearby? It has been a tough decision for me but I am now keeping my child home until a better system is in place.

Mitch Adis October 21, 2020 at 12:20 pm

According to the CDC and WHO, surfaces are not the problem with spreading COVID-19. Experts agree the major concern is Air quality. Ventilation indoors is rarely as good as outdoor. This is why the spread happens with an indoor setting. Also, let’s not lose sight of the fact that none of the COVID cases in schools were spread to other students. The spread is occurring outside of schools.

McContact Traced McMahon Parent October 21, 2020 at 7:03 pm

As a parent who was contact-traced this last week, I was simply blown away by the professionalism, dedication, and kindness of the staff that is charged with the task of calling families. I want to let everyone know, that this staff is working long hours and on weekends to keep all our our kids and families safe. I know because I was called twice. I want to thank all the NPS staff who have stepped up to meet this challenge and duties with dedication, they are doing work far beyond what they originally signed up for and what their duties were just last year at this time. If its of any reassurance to other school parents, I have faith these transmissions did not take place in school. I hope we can all learn from this. Thank you Dr. Estrella, and the NPS contact tracers, you helped stop the potential spread to the vulnerable in our immediate family. We are truly grateful.

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