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Stanly’s school system, health department collaborate on COVID-19 decisions

Stanly County Schools and the county’s health department have established procedures on when closing a school due to the threat of COVID-19 is warranted.

The pandemic was part of a recent survey of teachers asking about the effectiveness of central office communicating to faculty and staff updates regarding COVID-19. Interim Superintendent Vicki Calvert said 62 percent of elementary teachers said communication was good or fair, while 80 percent of fifth-grade teachers answered the same way. The number was 44 percent for middle school teachers and 64 percent for high school.

Calvert said “there is a need to balance transparency with what is permissible to share,” noting privacy laws “restrict what we can share.” She shared a hypothetical example of a student or staff member being ordered to quarantine and if the information was released, a person could be positively identified without releasing the person’s name.

“In many of our cases, our sample size is so low, it could become identifiable information,” Calvert said.

She said those directly exposed to a COVID case are contacted by school and healthcare officials.

According to Calvert, if five people or more, students and staff, are in one classroom and have confirmed cases, the classroom would be closed and the students of that class quarantined. If five or more students and staff throughout a school test positive, the school would be closed for a period of time. Both come from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Calvert said SCS has agreed to be part of a COVID Scientific Advisory Board.

“Being a part of the program will offer additional support to our district in collecting and reporting aggregate data,” she said.

Stanly County Health Department Director David Jenkins said this week’s switching of Badin Elementary to remote learning came as a collective decision between his department and SCS.

“The school was being more proactive about wanting to close based on the number of symptomatic children,” Jenkins said. “It (was) further determined that we had some processes that needed to be refined a little bit to mitigate any further spread, so that’s how we came to that conclusion from the conversation with the school.”

Badin went to remote learning Tuesday through Friday “due to several students and staffing having positive COVID-19 test results and numerous student absences due to COVID-like symptoms,” Calvert said in a press release Monday afternoon.

“We truly want and need our students to be with us in our school buildings, and when we must temporarily close doors for deep cleaning or quarantine, we share your frustrations that our students cannot be physically present at their campuses,” Calvert said in the release. “We must continue to be vigilant in our personal responsibilities to help reduce the spread of this virus. We really appreciate our families doing everything they can to help us keep our doors open. … We are depending on our families to keep children at home if they are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to an individual with symptoms or who is confirmed positive. When everyone plays their part, it increases the chances that we can continue to serve students in our schools.”

Regarding Badin, Jenkins said the school did not have five positive tests but had a number of people who were symptomatic, meaning the criteria was enough of a concern to be proactive and switch.

Jenkins said each school will be handled on a case-by-case basis and there is not a specific number which will determine the recommendation to go remote. Moving a school to remote learning, he added, impacts local daycare facilities which also works into the process and scenarios of what to do.

Having “constant coordination” with the school system in terms of receiving information has helped in a process that Jenkins said is a new situation for everyone involved.

Jenkins said he is most concerned with mitigating the spread of the virus because it is important from a mental health standpoint for children to have as much in-class time as possible.

He said SCS and the Health Department “have an excellent working relationship” and hopes the message of social distancing, wearing a mask and hand washing really gets out to the public.

Jenkins said the likelihood of another school in the system having to go remote is “quite possible.”

“When you are dealing with so many different families and different personalities, and the children go into one school, you don’t know what their environment is like when they leave school to go home,” he said. “You don’t know what their families are practicing as far as trying to prevent the spread.”

That uncertainty is why the health department is “so honed in” on the prevention measures away from school, Jenkins said, along with implementing measures while students are in school.

Data is being collected and evaluated, he added, saying in recent weeks the numbers have been leveling off. The biggest thing driving much of what the department has done recently concerns long-term care facilities.

With the number of patients testing positive and being isolated or moved out, Jenkins said he hopes the reinfection rate “is not as high as the initial infection rate.”

Jenkins said the health department has “always erred on the side of caution from a public health standpoint.”

Contact Charles Curcio at charles.curcio@stanlynewspress.com, call (704) 983-1361 or via Twitter (@Charles_Curcio).

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio was the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press from 1999-2001 and has currently served in the same capacity since 2008. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also been honored twice by the North Carolina Press Association.

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