By Beth Germano

WINCHENDON (CBS) – A severe outbreak of COVID cases has students returning to remote learning at Murdock High School in Winchendon. “It really sped up in the last couple of weeks. It came out of nowhere and was getting out of control,” said senior Ronan Kast who worries that spotty internet service will make it difficult again.

The state recommended the change so far making Winchendon the only Massachusetts community to return to virtual learning at least until the Christmas break and the testing numbers tell the story.

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Nearly half the students at the high school have been impacted with 56 students positive for COVID, 36 in quarantine and 100 others in the test and stay program.

Keith Kent, who chairs the local board of health, says it correlates with the town’s low vaccination rate of 52 percent. “The numbers don’t lie, the data doesn’t lie. Please trust the science, talk to your doctor, and get vaccinated if you haven’t done so,” said Kent.

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Karen Kast says she worries every day that her son will return home positive and believes the state could do more to help. “DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) doesn’t have the right things in place. Three feet apart (for desks) isn’t enough, handwashing is great but only does so much. They need to rethink some of this,” said Kast.

Winchendon is among the communities that received thousands of rapid testing kits from the state. But it is hoping that closing the school doors for now will get the numbers under control.

“It’s a bummer because it’s my senior year,” said senior Maria Vecchiarello. “But if it’s about the safety of my friends, teachers and staff then there’s no debate.”

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The high school is scheduled to reopen after the Christmas break on January 3, but Keith Kent worries about holiday gatherings. “We now still have Christmas and New Year coming and we fear this is not going to get better, only worse,” Kent said.

Beth Germano