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29 virus cases in area schools

With 29 COVID-19 cases already identified in area public schools this month, tracking possible exposure to the virus and preventing further cases is just one of the many tasks at hand to keep students in class and make this school year as close to normal as possible.

Senate Bill 1303 requires schools have five days of in-person learning a week available to students in a way that adheres in the best way possible to current applicable mitigation strategies against the coronavirus.

Prince Edward, Buckingham and Cumberland schools all opened to five days per week of in-school learning this month, and as directed by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, local public schools are also enforcing mask requirements across the school systems.

But with the highly transmissible delta variant causing the virus to surge throughout the health district, particularly among young people, all local public school divisions are already seeing cases among students and/or staff, with some entire school buildings already quarantining as a response to outbreaks.

Cumberland County Public Schools (CuCPS) held its first day of classes Monday, Aug. 9. Just over a week later, the school system was reporting 15 positive COVID-19 cases across the division as of Tuesday, Aug. 17, according to CuCPS Superintendent Dr. Chip Jones.

Prince Edward County Public Schools (PECPS) Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson noted Wednesday, Aug. 18, PECPS had experienced four cases of the virus, two student cases and two adult cases, since school began for Prince Edward Monday, Aug. 2.

According to Buckingham County Public Schools (BCPS) Superintendent Dr. Daisy Hicks, BCPS had identified three positive coronavirus cases within the school system between the first day of classes Monday, Aug. 9, and Tuesday, Aug. 17. That number had risen to 10 cases as of Thursday, Aug. 19. 

Hicks said Thursday that due to COVID-19 cases in the school community, Buckingham County PreSchool would be closed through the remainder of August and will reopen Sept. 1. Hicks said the school had also quarantined one classroom at Buckingham County Elementary School since Tuesday.

With the 2020-2021 school year having been marked by the difficulties and emotional toll of virtual learning, hybrid schedules and time spent away from friends, keeping students in classrooms five days a week will depend not only on recommendations from local health officials but also in tracking potential exposure to the virus when cases arise.

On Tuesday, Jones noted that once contact tracing is completed in the case of a positive COVID-19 test, the school contacts families of identified students to inform them of their child’s quarantine status.

“Once this has been completed, we notify all Cumberland County Public School staff members as well as the families of schools in which the positive case(s) occurred,” Jones added.

According to Jones, the school system routinely communicates with the Piedmont Health District team regarding positive cases and quarantine measures at school.

Based on the outcome of contact tracing, he added, the school will make moves to quarantine appropriate groups, be it a small number of students, entire classrooms or buses or even an entire school if advised by the health department to do so.

Buckingham and Prince Edward schools are also working closely with the health district to track cases and develop appropriate plans to ensure student, teacher and staff safety in the event of an outbreak.

Johnson noted Wednesday that PECPS recently launched a new COVID-19 information page on the school website which includes important news as well as exposure and contact tracing protocol information for families. The page also discusses what to do if a student or staff member needs to isolate or quarantine themselves for an extended period of time.

“Should we have any outbreaks, we are prepared to work collaboratively with the Piedmont Health District to determine the appropriate plan that will ensure everyone’s safety,” Johnson added.

The BCPs webpage features a variety of COVID-19 information for families including a COVID-19 “decision tree” detailing the appropriate path the school, parents/guardians, students and staff will follow in the event of COVID-like symptoms, close contact or a positive test result for the virus.

“Families and employees are notified via a letter of positive cases,” Hicks added Tuesday. “We will continue to follow the advice of Piedmont Health District for guidance should a large outbreak arise.”

This article has been updated from its print version in order to reflect the newest available COVID-19 information.