By Callie Hietala
Martinsville City Schools’ COVID-19 mitigation factors were put to the test early in the school year. City students returned to the classrooms on Monday, August 9.
By Tuesday, August 10, Cameron Cooper, Principal of Patrick Henry Elementary School, sent a letter to parents informing them “that a student or staff member has been diagnosed with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). This person was on the school premises on Monday, August 9, and did have direct exposure to other members of our school community.”
The letter stated that the school would continue to remain open, and that staff is “working closely with the Henry-Martinsville Health Department to identify anyone who had close contact with the person.” The letter defines close contact as “being within about 6 feet for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.”
If a student or family member is identified has having been exposed to COVID-19 through the infected individual, “the Henry-Martinsville Health Department might call you,” the letter stated.
In “indoor K-12 settings, a student who is within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student is not considered a close contact as long as both students are wearing masks and the school has other prevention strategies in place. This exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in indoor K-12 settings,” the letter added.
It also encouraged anyone who has not been fully vaccinated, and who may have had close contact with the COVID-positive person, to get tested and self-monitor for symptoms of the virus including cough, shortness of breath, and fever.
The “Virginia Department of Health (VDH) recommends that people with close contact exposure who are not fully vaccinated stay home (quarantine) for 14 days after their last exposure,” the letter stated. Those who have tested positive and recovered from COVID-19 in the past three months do not have to quarantine if they do not show new symptoms, it added.
The school cleaned and disinfected affected areas, in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Henry-Martinsville Health Department.
“You can help these efforts by promoting the following healthy behaviors and practices,” the letter said. “Stay at home from school or work if sick, even if symptoms are mild. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Get the COVID-19 vaccine if you are eligible. Children aged 12 years or older can get vaccinated.”
“Parker Gunn, Communications and Community Outreach Coordinator for the city school division, said in an emailed statement “at the beginning of school, we followed our health plan based on CDC guidance and approved by our school board. We are continuing to work with our local health department to provide our students and staff with a safe environment.”
Masked Patrick Henry Elementary School students load buses to go home at the beginning of their second week of school.The Martinsville City Schools’ health plan includes guidelines for students exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
“Students/staff who are symptomatic will be isolated as soon as possible, away from the office, staff, and other students,” the plan states. “Symptomatic persons will don a face mask and sit in a room separate from all other students/staff.”
The guidelines also state that any room that houses someone exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 should be well-ventilated and disinfected once the symptomatic individual has left the area.
Gunn did not comment on how many people the infected individual might have had close contact with or if there have been more positive cases reported within the Martinsville City school system.