On Thursday, the Toms River schools chief said COVID-19 cases were decreasing after nearly 900 staff and students were quarantined because of possible exposure to the virus three weeks into the school year.
The 15,500 student district, which is New Jersey’s sixth-largest, did not mandate masks in non-air conditioned areas at the start of the year, but face coverings have been required since Sept. 20.
Toms River Interim Superintendent of Schools Stephen Genco said 791 students were in quarantine, which marks less than 5.5% of the student population and has declined 28% overall since just last week.
The district’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 26 staff members currently quarantined.
According to the district data, 217 students have tested positive for the virus along with 27 staffers. Those numbers reflect total cases, not current active infections, the district said.
“Our numbers of cumulative positive cases and current quarantine numbers– which are published on our website and have been throughout this pandemic, and which are updated daily– are clearly and consistently trending down,” Genco said in a statement.
“In any case, I felt it necessary to reach out and assure our school community that, contrary to what you may have heard, there is no Covid-19 ‘outbreak’ in our district,” Genco said.
“There are no plans to transition to virtual learning at any school or classroom,” the superintendent’s message said.
Genco also defended the district’s mask policy, saying there were seven days in total when schools used an excessive heat exemption allowing masks to be optional in non-air conditioned spaces.
“We’re doing everything required of us, and thensome, to protect our students and staff, and quite frankly, I’m extremely proud of the job we’re doing. I’m equally proud of, and grateful for, the parents who came forward to commend our district and everything we’re doing to keep their children safe and in school,” Genco said.
Students exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19 are not subject to quarantine if they were at least three feet apart and had a mask on, according to the district’s 2021-22 handbook, which cites state department of health guidance.
Officials have not reported whether any of the Toms River coronavirus cases have been traced to identify a source of the infections.