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West Virginia schools are challenged by covid already

West Virginia’s young school year is running into some turbulence already from covid-19.

All schools in Monroe County are being closed for several days because of covid-19.

“Parents, due to large increases in Covid-19 cases, Monroe County Schools will be closed 8/31/21-9/3/21,” the school system wrote on its Facebook page, describing the intent to return to in-person learning after the Labor Day break.

“We ask that you help get our children back in school by following mitigation strategies. It’s going to take all of us doing our part.”

Barbour County Schools also went to remote learning this week after students and staff were identified with covid.

Jeff Woofter, superintendent of Barbour County Schools, said 85 students and more than 30 teachers and other staff were quarantined on Monday following  outbreaks at several schools.

“It spreads so rapidly,” he told MetroNews.

Some individual schools have faced that decision already too.

Pleasant Hill School in Calhoun County went to remote learning the past couple of days because of covid-19.

Jefferson County Schools announced this week that one of its classrooms would have to quarantine for the first time. In a public statement, the school system said it tries to investigate potential exposures on a case-by-case basis.

“In this instance, the decision to quarantine the class came during the contact tracing process after the Jefferson County Health Officer determined the criteria for an outbreak was met,” stated Hans Fogle, spokesman for the school system.

Patricia Lucas

Logan County Schools started four days ago with students expressing excitement to return in person, said Superintendent Patricia Lucas. The school system is following mitigation strategies provided by the state Department of Education. Face coverings are optional. 

“All in all we’re pleased with how school has started,” Lucas said.

“I don’t want to say that we haven’t had some issues with students that have tested positive and with quarantine, but we’re dealing with those on a school-by-school basis.”

The school year started so recently, she said, that most cases identified have preceded the opening of classrooms last Thursday.

“Most of those were prior to us beginning at school, where they had been found positive or exposed prior to coming to school,” Lucas said.

Chapmanville Regional High School in Logan County briefly put up notification on social media that unvaccinated ninth graders would not attend school today. Vaccinated ninth graders were allowed to attend school but were to wear a face covering until contact tracing is complete. The notification later appeared to be taken down.

Lucas said the initial notification went out because a covid case was identified too late in the evening to effectively perform contact tracing.

“When we get notified so late in the night that a student has tested positive, it’s too late to do contact tracing,” she said.

“So the procedure was that any student that had been vaccinated could come on to school and the ones that had not been vaccinated were to stay home until contact tracing was complete, which was just one day.”

The state Department of Education’s website lists 26 outbreaks at school facilities across the state. That is up from Friday’s statewide number, which was 20.

The Department of Education’s website lists two or more confirmed covid-19 cases within a 14-day period in a single classroom or core group. The website notes that only covid cases considered to be related to an outbreak are shown, not necessarily the total number of covid cases per school. Some of the updates are several days old.

State figures show that over the past seven days one of the highest covid caseloads has been among ages five through 11 with 700 cases. Children that age aren’t yet eligible for vaccination.

The state’s map that was used much of last year to determine school operational status has turned almost entirely red or orange, indicating the two highest levels of covid spread.

Kanawha County, which started school early in August, has been particularly hard hit.

Capital High School, which identified more than 40 covid cases last week, now lists 35. Capital went to remote learning the final three days of last week and has since returned.

George Washington High lists 12 cases, which is down from last week’s number. Herbert Hoover lists 13. Sissonville lists 12.

John Adams Middle lists 22 cases. West Side Middle lists 19. Horace Mann Middle identifies 13 cases.

Chamberlain Elementary lists 19. Elk Elementary Center lists 13. Mary C. Snow Elementary has 10.

Monongalia County, which returned to classrooms one week ago, reports seven covid cases among students at University High School and six cases at Clay-Battelle High, along with a handful of student quarantines at several schools.

Eddie Campbell

“Given our current situation, it shouldn’t be that surprising,” Superintendent Eddie Campbell told the Dominion-Post newspaper.

Campbell noted that last year’s guidelines would have sent entire classrooms home, but this year’s guidelines have meant performing contact tracing for students who came within a few feet of a confirmed case. Exposed students who have been vaccinated or who are wearing masks are not required to quarantine under the state’s guidance.

“Look at Suncrest Elementary as an example,” he told the newspaper. “We had one positive case with a student, but no quarantines. If this had been last year at this time, the teacher and 25 students would have had to go home.”

Gov. Jim Justice

Gov. Jim Justice has repeatedly said that he believes decisions about how to handle the virus are best made at the local level.

“I really believe that at this point in time the local official knows the very best what’s going on in their neighborhood and their communities,” Justice said.

Clayton Burch

State Superintendent Clayton Burch, during a Friday briefing, said those local decisions can sometimes be made down to the school or classroom level.

“That’s the ability they have that we do not have when we try to do statewide mask mandates,” Burch said.

In cases like Capital, Burch said, “We’re not talking about long-term closures. We’re talking about very, very short-term, temporary closures working with local health departments.”

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