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Gov's Push for School Reopening Based in Science, Cape Health Official Says

Gov. Charlie Baker is urging schools to bring children back to the classroom, and a Cape Cod public health official says the idea appears to be backed by science.

“Our governor and his team remain science-based and empirical in their approach, which is laudable and very welcome here,” said Vaira Harik, deputy director of the Barnstable County Department of Human Services.

She said the state is responding to emerging research that shows children do much better academically, and possibly psychologically, in a school setting.

“But it's not my understanding that anything has changed at the local level with regard to the local control of decision making within the school districts,” she said.

In data current through midday Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 113 children under age 18 had died of COVID-19. That represents less than 0.1 percent of the total U.S. deaths from the disease.

The new state guidance comes as Massachusetts enters a second wave of cases. Daily confirmed cases have exceeded 2,000 several times this month, the highest since the first wave in the spring.

Cape Cod public health officials are watching hospitalization rates to determine if the region will need to reopen a field hospital this winter.

State Sen. Julian Cyr said the Cape is nowhere near that point.

“If we need to put it back into play, we're able to do that relatively swiftly,” he said. “But ... there remains significant and ample hospital capacity on Cape Cod related to covid-19.”

The field hospital that opened in the spring at Joint Base Cape Cod closed after a few weeks without ever seeing a patient.

As of Wednesday, only one person was hospitalized on the Cape with COVID-19, according to Harik.

Cyr said wearing a mask, physical distancing, and hand washing will be critical to head off a big winter spike before it happens.

“We're in a very dangerous phase,” he said. “And as I said before, what we do now is going to determine how dark of a winter this is going to be on Cape Cod.”

Asymptomatic testing in the region remains limited, especially on the Mid Cape in relation to that area’s case count, he said.

Last week, the Community Health Center of Cape Cod announced it would offer asymptomatic testing in Falmouth and Mashpee.

The Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment plans to open its own testing program once the state releases the funding.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.