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The 272 new cases among students and staff is up for the third consecutive week to begin the 2022-23 school year.

Another 272 Madison Metropolitan School District students and staff tested positive for COVID-19 the week of Sept. 12.

The first three weeks of the 2022-23 school year have seen an upward trend in positives, from 95 to 158 to the most recent 272. That brings the total so far this school year to 525 — a number that it took 10 weeks to reach last school year.

This latest week would have been the 10th highest in the entire 2021-22 school year. MMSD didn’t reach this level until the end of December last year as the Omicron surge began.

MMSD has more than 4,000 staff members and 25,000 students.

District spokesperson Tim LeMonds wrote in an email that “the district and its medical advisors foreshadowed a potential rise in cases during the first part of the school year, and this has turned out to be the case.”

“MMSD, historically, has gone far and above what other agencies and school districts are doing to identify, track and report positive COVID cases, and these numbers reflect this excellent work,” LeMonds wrote. “This success can be attributed, in part, to MMSD providing an abundance of access to COVID testing, the assistance of a very effective screener process and the district's persistence to closely monitor COVID conditions in schools.”

According to the Public Health Madison & Dane County COVID data dashboard, the county is at a medium community level under U.S. Centers for Disease Control thresholds. The county’s weekly case rate is up to 215.4 cases per 100,000 residents.

LeMonds suggested that the county’s caseload could be even higher — more closely aligned with the district’s rate — but people aren’t reporting positive home tests as often, while the district “is able to identify and report a significantly higher percentage of positive cases” from those tests.

“There is no way of telling how many Dane County community members test positive with a rapid home test and do not report it,” LeMonds wrote. “It is within reason to assume there is a very significant percentage of Dane County community members not reflected in weekly numbers, who have tested positive for COVID using a rapid home test and do not report it to PHMDC.”

The highest case loads in the district are unsurprisingly at the high schools, which have the most students. Over the past 14 days, West has had 72 cases, Memorial has had 66, La Follette has had 40 and East has had 21.

Among elementary and middle schools, Olson Elementary School had 17 cases over the past two weeks, while Hamilton Middle School had 16. Others with double-digit cases over the past 14 days are Randall, Midvale, Chavez and Elvehjem elementary schools.

This school year has seen districts treating COVID-19 somewhat differently than the past two around the entire country. According to the Burbio School Mask Policy tracker, none of the largest 495 school districts in the United States are requiring masks.

MMSD was the only Wisconsin district to do so every day of the 2021-22 school year, but moved to a mask-optional practice for summer school. In August, the district announced it would continue that practice for the school year.

Last week, LeMonds told the Cap Times that the district did not consider the number of cases, which were at 253 through the first two weeks of the year, “particularly concerning.”

“For there to be a shift in our COVID mitigation protocols, it would require a multitude of factors and not based on case counts alone,” LeMonds wrote. “In addition to case counts, our metrics team and medical advisors would consider community conditions, attendance rates, staffing levels (and) hospitalizations.”

The district’s mitigation measures this year include asking students and staff to stay home when they’re sick, routine cleaning, reminders of good hygiene practices and improved ventilation. Masking, however, is “strongly recommended,” not required.

It is required for anyone who is on days six through 10 of an isolation period after testing positive for COVID or anyone experiencing respiratory infection symptoms. Students and staff are allowed to return to school on day six if they are no longer experiencing symptoms, per CDC guidance.

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