Thursday, May 23, 2024

Michelle Holmes, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is now part of Covid-19 decision-making for Cambridge Public Schools. (Photo: Brigham and Women’s Hospital)

New Cambridge-centric metrics that evaluate and measure the risk of Covid-19 transmission in public schools were approved Tuesday by the School Committee after elected and local leaders began talks to address mistrust and miscommunication around the pandemic’s impact on the community.

The discussion of the metrics within the greater community came after a special Nov. 12 roundtable with representatives from community groups to address the disparate impact of coronavirus on different racial and ethnic groups, and how the city and schools can help mitigate the social, emotional and academic ramifications on affected families.

Contributions from communities of color were made by representatives Ty Bellitti, of My Brother’s Keeper; Bernette Dawson, of the Cambridge Families of Color Coalition; Gardite Fougy, of the Cambridge Special Education Parent Advisory Council; Dr. Alisa Khan, a parent and pediatrician; Betsy Preval, of the Educators of Color Coalition; former mayor Ken Reeves, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and Melissa Rico, a parent at the Baldwin School and mental health counselor.

The district has also acted to ensure it hears perspectives that reflect the city’s diverse population in its decision-making. Michelle Holmes, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is now on its Covid-19 health and safety committee. Invitations to provide expertise have been extended to Mauricio Santillana, an assistant professor and director in the Machine Intelligence Research Lab at Harvard Medical School, and Danielle Allen, a professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.


Last week, the metrics that act as a barometer for Covid-19 infections in Cambridge Public Schools were nearing the thresholds that trigger the closing of in-person learning, but the change that would prevent that was delayed by committee members concerned that communities of color had not had their voices heard by the city, district and committee during the design and decision processes.

The primary rationale for shifting to Cambridge data from metrics based on county and state data is the availability of surveillance testing for teachers and staff, district officials said.

The first metric, a seven-day average of new positive Covid-19 cases in Cambridge, will be updated daily with data provided by the Cambridge Public Health department. It was an average of cases in Suffolk and Middlesex counties.

The second metric, the number of positive tests in Cambridge per week as reported by the state, will be updated every Friday, replacing a statewide positive case count.

The final metric measures the amount of Covid-19 viral genomes in the Greater Boston wastewater at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority treatment plant in Boston Harbor. It will remain in place until a system testing three Cambridge locations weekly is implemented fully.

If two metrics rise above their thresholds, the schools will close in-person learning and all students will move to remote learning.

Members also discussed additional measures to evaluate the pandemic’s impact, including wastewater testing at schools, surveillance testing of older students and confirmed cases of staff and students in the schools. Decisions will be made as more data and context becomes available.


The district, in collaboration with the city’s public health department, added the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the schools and from staff participating in a free testing program to its Covid-19 dashboard, as well as the rates of CPS staff participation in the district’s free Covid-19 testing program.

The district also plans to offer the public an option to get Covid-19 updates via text and email, and is exploring other ways to share information.

The district will send a survey to families by early December, and plans to publish its listening session schedule Monday. Families will be invited to attend open sessions, as well as specific sessions including remote and in-person learning, language, grade and special education sessions as well as open topic sessions. Results will be discussed in a workshop in late December.