DEDHAM, MASS. (WHDH) - Schools across the Bay State are taking precautions as they welcome back students from winter break amid a COVID-19 surge.

On Monday, the first day back from break was a scramble in Dedham where Superintendent Michael Welch said 18 percent of students and 13 percent of teachers in the district were absent.

Dedham is also facing a serious shortage of bus drivers and food service workers.

“About a third of our food service folks were out. So we didn’t do any meals for the adults, but we made sure all of our kids were fed,” he said.

These kinds of staffing shortages are being felt across the Commonwealth as the return to school coincides with a rise in COVID-19 cases.

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In Watertown, 16 percent of the teaching force was out Monday, citing COVID-19 and other reasons. On Tuesday, schools there were closed to process pool testing and on Wednesday there will be a delayed opening.

In Framingham, the superintendent said 3,500 rapid tests have been distributed to schools to ensure every student has access to a test.

While Dedham’s superintendent anticipates continued staffing issues, he said they are doing what they can to alleviate problems.

“In Dedham, we had about 1,400 people who pool tested yesterday. Those pools go out to a lab and come back and many times, this is calling out people who are not even aware that they are positive,” he said.

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Air purifiers are present in all classrooms, masks are required for staff, and both masking and social distancing guidelines are in place for students.

“We hope with all those measures together, it’s going to make schools the safest place to be and that’s where kids need to be,” said Welch.

This all comes as the omicron variant continues to drive daily case counts to record levels. The rush to get tested after the holidays is also causing long lines at testing facilities across the state.

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