The Hamilton Township School District’s COVID-19 contingency plans received an immediate test, after people at seven of the district’s 23 schools tested positive for the virus in the first three weeks returning to in-person instruction.

The cases come amid a township-wide surge that saw as many positive COVID-19 tests in one week in October as the township had the entire month of September.

In the most severe instance, multiple unrelated cases at two township schools led the district to shut down the school buildings for two weeks. On Oct. 26, the district closed McGalliard Elementary School for two weeks—until Monday, Nov. 9—after three people at the school tested positive in the span of four days. McGalliard has transitioned to an all-remote instruction during the building’s shutdown.

Hamilton High School West went to an all-remote schedule for the last two weeks of October, after two students tested positive for COVID-19 in a three-day span. HHW planned to return to its hybrid schedule on Monday, Nov. 2, Hamilton Township School District superintendent Scott Rocco said in a letter to the community Oct. 18.

At both Hamilton West and McGalliard, there were two unrelated cases, leading to the shutdown of the school building, per state procedures. Both came during the district’s first month with at least some in-person instruction since March. Instruction had been done remotely since the start of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a staff member at Kuser Elementary School and students at Klockner Elementary School, Yardville Heights Elementary School, Sunnybrae Elementary School and Steinert High School also tested positive for COVID-19. The district learned of the positive test at Kuser Elementary on Sunday, Oct. 18, and turned to all-remote learning for the first three school days that week.

Rocco alerted the community to the Sunnybrae case on Oct. 22, the Yardville Heights and Steinert cases on Oct. 26 and the Klockner case on Oct. 27. Those four schools remained in hybrid learning.

With each positive case, the district consults with the Hamilton Township Division of Health, and cleans and disinfects all exposed areas within the affected schools. The district also has taken further precautions to prevent the spread of viruses, Rocco said, including cleaning frequently-touched surfaces daily. Schools will follow the policies developed with input from federal, state and local health officials.

”Our district plan outlines a procedure that we are required to follow (which includes working closely with our local health department),” Rocco wrote on Oct. 16. “When a confirmed COVID case occurs, your school will follow the outlined procedures and they will notify specific students, staff, and faculty individually, who may have come in contact with the individual(s) and follow up in writing. The school will then send a letter notifying their community of the situation. In addition, I will notify our school district of the confirmed case.”

After a summer with relatively low case numbers, COVID-19 began to take hold again within Hamilton Township last month. In the third week of October, Hamilton experienced 83 new COVID cases—the highest weekly total since the end of May. This was nearly the same amount the township saw the whole month of September (86).

Hamilton Township Mayor Jeff Martin said the numbers were not a one-week outlier; there were 129 new cases in the township in the second and third weeks of the month combined.

“Like all of you, I too am frustrated and tired by the virus,” Martin said in an Oct. 27 Facebook post. “For each of us, it has turned our world upside down and we don’t know when it will end. However, I promise you that it will not end any sooner by us letting our guard down or deciding we don’t care anymore.”

UPDATED 11 a.m. Oct. 28 with data and a statement from Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin.

UPDATED 5:20 p.m. Oct. 27 to reflect that a member of the Klockner Elementary School community has tested positive for COVID-19, pushing the number to seven schools in Hamilton with at least one case of COVID-19.

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Rob Anthes
Rob Anthes is managing editor at Community News Service, and also serves as the editor of the Hamilton Post and the Lawrence Gazette. Rob's writing has been honored by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, the Keystone Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Free Community Papers, most recently in 2020. He was a 2019 fellow at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting, based at the University of Rhode Island. A Hamilton native, Rob is a graduate of Steinert High School and Syracuse University.