COVID cluster at Ridgefield's Farmingville school reaches 20

Ridgefield's Farmingville Elementary School has recorded 20 positive tests for COVID-91 among its students and staff from Thanksgiving week to Monday night.

Ridgefield’s Farmingville Elementary School has recorded 20 positive tests for COVID-91 among its students and staff from Thanksgiving week to Monday night.

Macklin Reid / Hearst Connecticut Media

A COVID-19 cluster at Farmingville Elementary School has grown to 20 confirmed cases since Thanksgiving week.

School officials were counting nine cases early Friday, which grew to 14 over the weekend, and by Monday night was up to 20.

“Several of these cases are potentially due to exposures at school,” Superintendent of Schools Susie Da Silva said in one several communications that went out over the weekend.

“We are closing the FES building to staff and recommending that anybody who was in the FES building since Monday, December 7 closely monitor their symptoms and be tested for COVID-19,” Da Silva said.

The outbreak at Farmingville is not confined to a single class or grade, according to school officials, but is spread among a group of both students and staff that has now grown to 20 individuals.

Asked if the virus has spread from students and staff to their family members and into the wider community, Superintendent Da Silva was circumspect.

“We don’t know this,” she said.

She agreed that one school having 20 confirmed cases, and 127 students and 37 staff members in quarantine, represented a serious situation.

“Yes, it is, and we are studying further,” Da Silva said.

Aaron Crook, the school system’s COVID-19 heath and safety liaison, also raised the possibility of in-school transmission in a email Friday, when the count was still at nine cases.

“Nine FES community members have tested positive for COVID-19 since Tuesday, Dec. 1,” Crook wrote. “Five of which are staff members, and four are students.

“Two of the cases came from cohorts where there was a recent positive of COVID-19, which raises the possibility of in-school transmission within the FES building,” Crook said.

Priority testing

A “priority testing” session for Farmingville students and staff was set up Monday afternoon at the town testing site run by DOCS Urgent Care near Yanity gym.

And a Zoom question-and-answer session with Farmingville families was conducted Monday night, with school officials saying testing would also be available Tuesday and Wednesday at the Yanity site. Hours there are generally 9 a.m. to noon, weekdays.

“It was a good meeting,” Da Silva said after the question and answer session. “Tenor was fine, positive, appreciating the hard work.”

Monday night’s question session was attended by about 115 members of the Farmingville community, Da Silva said.

The Farmingville building has not been open to students since closing for the midweek snow storm. All Ridgefield Public Schools were put on “remote learning” for the remaining days until vacation — partly an effort to hold down the number of students and school staff who might have to quarantine over vacation.

But a steady trickle of emails from Da Silva and Crook for the remainder of the week and through the weekend announced more positive cases as school officials learned of test results.

Crook announced Monday’s special testing hours in an email Saturday night.

“... Due to this outbreak of 14 cases at FES since Nov. 23, the FES building is closed to students and faculty. The Ridgefield Public Schools, in partnership with First Selectman Rudy Marconi and DOCS urgent care, will be providing priority COVID-19 testing for all FES faculty and students on Monday, Dec., 21.” Crook wrote.

In quarantine

In addition to the students and staff who’ve tested positive for COVID-19, Farmingville had 127 students and 37 staff members in quarantine due to potential exposures.

That count of students and staff in quarantine is from the COVID-19 data tracker on the school system’s website, as updated late Monday morning.

At that time Ridgefield’s other nine school buildings had totals of 63 students and eight staff — all from East Ridge Middle School — in quarantine, according to data tracker.

By Monday night, Dec. 21, the school system’s COVID-19 data tracker offered this tally for the year:

“RPS has had 81 known cases of COVID-19. Over time we have placed 1,271 students and staff in quarantine after potential exposures in school, on the bus, and at athletic events. 12 of these 1,271 have tested positive.”

The data tracker lists every quaranine and case report going back to August, before school started.

At the top is a list of “recent cases and active quarantines.” Those include 17 listings: two from East Ridge Middle School, two from Ridgefield High School — and 13 from Farmingville School.

In the Dec. 18 email Crook outlined steps the school system is undertaking to address the situation.

“The FES building will remain closed to students and staff for 14 days starting today per Addendum 9 Guidance from the CT Department of Public Health and on the advice of Town of Ridgefield Health Department Director, Ed Briggs,” he said.

“Custodial staff will do an enhanced cleaning of the entire building.”

In announcing Monday night’s live question and answer session, school officials emphasized their intention to be open and communicate.

“When a cluster of cases like this appears, understandably, it causes anxiety,” Crook said in a communication forwarded to families by Da Silva. “We are here to answer your questions and appreciate your partnership in keeping our schools as safe as possible.

“I am available to speak with you by phone to answer any questions you may have, please email me to set up an appointment to talk. Please wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep your distance.”