EAST HAVEN, CT — Seventeen Joseph Melillo Middle School teachers were ordered into quarantine Tuesday after they attended a private holiday party they organized at the Italian-American Club this past weekend, a district official confirmed. One of the teachers, described as a party organizer, tested positive for COVID-19 and was reported to have been feeling unwell at the event, they said.
A number of families have said on social media their students were placed in larger classrooms with just one teacher Wednesday, a teacher they did not know.
Patch emailed school superintendent Erica Forti for comment. As of the time this story was posted, she had not responded.
Board of education chair Michele A. DeLucia, also copied on the email, did speak with Patch.
She confirmed the event was held and noted that the person who tested positive was perhaps feeling unwell while at the gathering of teachers. And she confirmed that 17 teachers were quarantined. She said she was "personally very disappointed" and called the educators' decision to have a holiday party a “lack of judgment" at best.
She added, "... though I understand that every wants to celebrate the holiday season, it’s important that we continue to keep our students at the forefront.”
As reported early Wednesday morning, the district already had close to 100 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the fall term. The COVID-19 tracker on the schools' website does not reflect the fact that 17 teachers were put in quarantine when it was updated around 2 p.m. Wednesday.
When asked if having those same teachers in classrooms teaching students on Monday and Tuesday was a concern, DeLucia said "yes."
DeLucia said she's "thankful for the vacation."
"The vacation at least means we have the time for people to quarantine because this has the potential to spread like wildfire causing the district to shut down," she said.
Also copied on the email to Forti was East Shore District Health director Michael A. Pascucilla. In a phone interview Wednesday night, he told Patch "those teachers should have known better."
"Just because they could get together doesn't mean they should," he said. "With all we know, from the superintendent to the health (department), the state (health) department, the CDC, gatherings are strongly discouraged. They were discouraged from doing it, and they did it anyway. From my point of view, they showed poor judgment."
When asked why the school was not closed after the positive case and subsequent quarantining of all the teachers at the party, Pascucilla explained that those people who have been placed in 10-day quarantine because they had direct contact with a person with the disease do so as a preventative measure. He said that most people in quarantine will not end up with COVID-19. And noted that if all the people who have come in contact with a person in quarantine were quarantined because of possible exposure, it would create a "domino effect and everyone would be in quarantine." He said "following the science, we would not close schools because a person may have been exposed."
"We have to follow the science," he said.
Meanwhile, Pascucilla said that he expects case numbers will increase significantly after the holidays.
"I hope not, but unfortunately, our numbers are going to go up. People are getting sick, they're being hospitalized, and we have fatalities. People need to follow the guidelines. They need to follow the guidance. I hope they do."
This story was updated with comments from East Shore District Health director Michael A. Pascucilla.