Lowell shifts to remote learning, cancels Halloween trick-or-treating amid ‘significant increase’ in coronavirus cases

Lowell schools are shifting to fully remote learning beginning on Monday after the city landed on the state’s high-risk list for COVID-19 transmission for the third week in a row.

“Please know this decision was not made lightly. We understand how disappointing and disruptive this decision can be for our families,” school officials wrote in a letter to the school community Wednesday night. “However, in consultation with the Lowell Board of Health, and following the guidance provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, this decision was determined to be necessary as a preventative health measure based on the community-wide spread of COVID-19 in Lowell.”

Lowell entered the highest-risk “red zone” for the first time earlier this month after the city traced many of its cases to distinct clusters. But its subsequent increase in infections was mostly tied to community spread, city officials have said.

The city’s average daily case rate per 100,000 residents over the two-week period ending Saturday was 16.4, more than double the state’s threshold for being labeled high-risk and about even with the week prior. The city’s positivity rate ticked down to 3.29% from 3.57%.

Officials decided to pull the plug on in-person learning beginning next week to allow students currently in classrooms to finish out the week in school.

“We are continuing to review possible options for students in smaller, substantially separate special education programs to continue to attend in-person,” school officials said. “We will communicate those potential exceptions to students and families in those programs as soon as possible.”

Lowell is just the latest school district to announce a shift to remote learning or delay a return to in-person learning as more and more cities and towns land in the red zone each week.

The high-risk designation prompted Webster schools this week to delay moving forward with its hybrid learning model until at least November. Brockton has also decided to “stay the course” with remote learning, said Mayor Robert Sullivan, who also chairs the school committee that will reevaluate in-person learning later this month.

Lowell also became the latest community to ban door-to-door trick-or-treating for Halloween after city officials noted a “significant increase in new cases of COVID-19.” Ayer similarly announced Thursday it was canceling the town’s trick-or-treating event.

“This decision is a very difficult one which will unquestionably result in disappointment across the community; this is the hardest part of this decision,” town officials wrote on their website. “The town understands and shares in this disappointment.”

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