COVID ‘Outbreak’ at Columbia High School Prompts Temporary Mask Mandate

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A COVID-19 outbreak among 9th graders at Columbia High School led to a temporary return to mandatory masking for freshmen this week.

According to an email sent to families by Principal Frank Sanchez, “more than three individuals” were identified as COVID positive within the past 14 days, which meets the NJ Department of Health’s guidelines for an outbreak.

“…the DOH is requiring that you send your 9th Grade children to school with a mask through Friday, September 30, 2022,” wrote Sanchez. “We ask them to stay masked on the bus and indoors at school unless they are actively eating or drinking or are having a mask break.”

The mask mandate does not affect 10th, 11th or 12th graders.

The South Orange-Maplewood School District COVID guidelines state that mandatory masking will be required “As recommended by the DOH (i.e., significant increase in transmission, outbreak).”

Asked for further clarification, district spokeswoman Anide Eustache wrote in an email:

“For context, in August, 2022, NJDOH and CDS guided that schools/ECE may transition away from case-investigation response model to a routine disease control model which focuses less on individual case investigation and contact tracing and more on responding to clusters of cases and outbreaks.


As per the NJDOH and Communicable Disease Service (CDS), August 2022, “An outbreak of COVID-19 in a school/ECE setting is defined as three or more individuals (positive by RT-PCR or antigen) among students or staff with illness onsets within a 14-day period, who are epidemiologically linked1 , do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.” An outbreak is determined and identified by the DOH after careful case investigation.


Also as we mentioned in the District’s back to school guidebook, masking will be required under three circumstances:


Masks are optional indoors and outdoors for Pre-K to 12 schools, buses, and District office buildings. However, masking will be required:

During large indoor gatherings;
For individuals returning to school – indoors and outdoors – after COVID positive isolation on days 6-10;
As recommended by the DOH (i.e., significant increase in transmission, outbreak).”

Here is the full email from Mr. Sanchez:

September 28, 2022

Dear CHS Teachers and 9th-Grade Families

This letter is to inform you that more than three individuals in Grade 9 have been identified as Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases within the past 14-day period causing the Department of Health to consider this an “outbreak” among the Freshmen class.

The District is coordinating closely with public health officials and following the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), state, and local Department of Health (DOH) guidance in order to assure the health and safety of our community.  Positive cases are investigated deeply by the local DOH; then, an outbreak may be identified by the DOH and the guidance below comes from them.

It is recommended that you follow up with a COVID test, regardless of vaccination status. It may be a home test or a laboratory rapid or PCR test.

  • If you test positive by home test, it is recommended that you stay home and follow up with a laboratory test (Rapid or PCR).  Please notify the school nurse and principal of a positive home test.

  • If you test positive by laboratory test (Rapid or PCR), please stay home and email the principal.

  • If you have symptoms, stay home.

Besides the recommendations above, the DOH is requiring that you send your 9th Grade children to school with a mask through Friday, September 30, 2022.  We ask them to stay masked on the bus and indoors at school unless they are actively eating or drinking or are having a mask break.  (Please send your 9th-grade child to school with a mask – we have a limited supply.)

We understand the level of concern regarding COVID-19. We encourage parents and students to continue following the CDC and NJDOH promoted safeguards, such as:

  • Getting vaccinated and boosted as eligible
  • Staying home when you are sick
  • Consider wearing a mask while in school and in public settings
  • Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using hand sanitizer
  • Covering coughs and sneezes and properly disposing of tissues
  • Limiting close contact with people who are sick and not sharing food, drinks, and utensils
  • Practicing social distancing; and
  • Continuing to monitor your health for symptoms. Get a Home Rapid or laboratory PCR or Rapid test if you have symptoms, and see Testing below

As always, we appreciate our community’s support and cooperation.  Thank you to all who have been vigilant in notifying the school principal and nurse if you have a positive case and for staying home if you are sick with COVID-compatible symptoms.

Should you have any questions about this situation, please feel free to contact Tracy Crigler at 973-762-5600 x 1059. Below are some resources that might be helpful.


a. NJDOH COVID-19 Information for Communities and the General Public:

Department of Health | Communicable Disease Service | COVID-19: Information for Communities and the General Public

b. Get the Facts about Coronavirus: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | CDC

c. Symptoms of COVID-19: Symptoms of COVID-19 | CDC

d. Testing AND Vaccination: and key in your zip code

Essex County COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Locations for mega sites for walk-ins

  • Wednesdays at the Board of Education Building 525 Academy Street in the District Meeting Room 4:00pm to 6:00pm

e. How to Protect Yourself: How to Protect Yourself and Others | CDC

f. What to Do if You Are Sick: What to Do If You Are Sick | CDC

Sincerely, Frank

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