Rural schools across area avoiding COVID outbreaks

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Most small districts seeing no cases after two weeks of class

After more than 14 days of in-person schooling in Barry and Lawrence counties, the majority of districts have avoided having even a single school-related case of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

As of Thursday, Exeter, Purdy, Wheaton, Verona and Pierce City had not seen any school-related cases. As of Monday, Cassville had four, Monett had seen five and Southwest had one.

At Monett, the first and second cases, both around Aug. 29, resulted in about 60 students being quarantined. The week of Sept. 1, two more cases were discovered, one of whom was not at school and had no associated quarantines, and the other resulted in three quarantines. The latest case was at the intermediate school.

People can follow the COVID-19 tracker for Monett at https://www.monettschools.org/page/back-to-school-information. It details the number of cases in the district, broken down by students and staff, and the total number in quarantine by school building. It also lists the numbers for enrollment and staff.

Russ Moreland, Monett superintendent, has said previously that more quarantines could have been necessary had the district not implemented protocols like seating charts and cohorting.

Of Cassville’s four, one was prior to the start of school and resulted in the quarantine of the middle school volleyball team. The second case, which was the first while school was in session, came on Aug. 29 and resulted in 20 Cassville Middle School students being quarantined. The third case was a district employee and only one student was ordered to quarantine, and the fourth case was announced Monday, a staff member at the middle school that resulted in 106 quarantines.

People can follow the COVID-19 tracker for Cassville schools at https://cassville.k12.mo.us/vnews/display.v/ART/5f5a2dc9a5092. It details the number of total active cases, the percent of district population, the total number of quarantines, and the percentage of quarantines due to school-related cases.

Richard Asbill, Cassville superintendent, said the latest case could have resulted in more quarantines had the district not instituted cohorting guidelines.

“The number could have been larger if not for some of our protocols, and after this, we will evaluate and adjust accordingly,” he said. “We are working with the Barry County Health Department on that. Masking also did assist in limiting some contact tracing, because in one case, the staff member was physically distanced and masked, preventing one group of students from having to quarantine.

“We have had 15 days of school, and we knew as time went on we would be going through this process and have impacts. We are trying to adjust and plan for the next day, and our teachers and staff are doing a great job adjusting with us.”

Asbill said the third case, an employee who tested positive, does not have daily interactions with students or staff inside school buildings. As a result of that positive, the district made alterations to seating arrangements in certain areas that aim to prevent the necessity for additional quarantines in a repeat situation.

Southwest’s one case was a staff member who tested positive but did not come to school, preventing any school-related quarantines.

The five districts with no cases have avoided school-related quarantines, but with the number of active cases in the bi-county area remaining at about 90-100, some students and staff have been affected by non-school-related issues.

At Exeter, one teacher was ordered to quarantine in the second week of school.

“That teacher was able to use Google Meets and teach from home with a sub in the classroom,” said Ernest Raney, Exeter superintendent. “It was tough to hear at the end of the first week we might have someone who was exposed, but she was healthy and had an office at home from which she gave her lessons.

In Verona, Superintendent Tony Simmons said the district has had some students held out per Health Department regulations, and those students have kept up with coursework through remote learning.

Kelli Alumbaugh, Pierce City superintendent, said her district has had a few students quarantined as close contacts, and they also continued schooling through Google Classroom.

Russ Moreland, Monett superintendent, said four staff at his district have been quarantined, a mix of being school-related and not school-related. Those teachers are able to teach from home using Google Classroom, and students quarantined also work virtually to stay engaged.

Tosha Tilford, Southwest superintendent, said some students in the district have self-quarantined, but none have been officially ordered to do so by the Health Department.

Mindi Gates, Purdy superintendent, said the district has had no cases, and two staff have been quarantined for non-school-related issues. Those teachers’ positions do not allow for a virtual learning platform. No students had been quarantined.

Trish Wilson, Wheaton superintendent, said her district has had no cases, and one teacher and four students have been quarantined. The teacher was able to give virtual instruction.

Positive cases are put in isolation, which is a 10-day window to recover from the virus after testing positive. A person in isolation is not released until after 10 days and going 24 hours symptom free, with no use of fever-reducing medications. Close contacts are defined as any person who was within six feet of a positive case for more than 15 minutes over a short period of time. Those people will be placed in quarantine, which is a 14-day period that begins when the contact was last near the positive case. For those in the same household, the 14 days would begin after the isolation ends and a positive case is recovered.

Close contacts who are quarantined are typically not positive cases. The majority of close contacts ultimately test negative.

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