By Brandon Martin
Parents in Henry County can stay up to date with coronavirus transmission in the schools through the county’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The website has been in operation for approximately a month and cases can be tracked all the back to Oct. 12.
Recently, eight staff members from Magna Vista High School, Campbell Court Elementary School, Axton Elementary School, Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School, Pupil Transportation, and Central Office were confirmed to be positive between Nov. 27 and Dec. 4.
Monica Hatchett, director of communications, called the cases “largely community based.”
“We are currently not experiencing outbreaks in any of our schools or departments, but there are positive cases and people in quarantine due to exposure to positive cases,” she said.
During the same period, an additional 48 staff members were listed as quarantined. Campbell Court Elementary School had the most staff members out on quarantine with 12. The next highest was Magna Vista with 10 staff members, followed by Axton Elementary School at 6. Other schools and offices with three or fewer quarantined staff members are Bassett High School, the Center for Community Learning, Drewry Mason Elementary School, George Washington Carver Elementary School, Meadowview Elementary School, Mount Olivet Elementary School, Rich Acres Elementary School, Laurel Park Middle School, Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School, Magna Vista High School, Facilities Maintenance, and Central Office.
“When we are notified of a positive case, the staff members in the impacted school or department receive a notice from their supervisor,” Hatchett said. “Every positive case is also reported to VDH (Virginia Department of Health) within 24 hours of the date that the school division is notified. In the event of an outbreak, staff also receives a notice from their supervisor.”
The website tracks both staff and student cases. The county employees 1,191 staff members and has 7,132 students enrolled.
Since Oct. 12, there have been 62 cases between staff and students identified throughout all 20 of the county’s education-related buildings. Additionally, there have been 991 people quarantined during the same period. Quarantine cases may not be the result of a case on campus but do impact the division and, therefore, are included in the data.
Approximately a month ago, the division decided to return to full virtual instruction for students until Jan. 19, 2021.
Schools Superintendent Sandy Stayer said a month of intermittent school shutdowns combined with shortfalls in personnel prompted the recommendation.
“When we opened in-person learning, we knew we were going to have to shut some classrooms in schools when we had positive cases of COVID-19, and we know that every time there is a positive case, many people are taken out because of contact tracing and they are put on quarantine,” Strayer said.
She added that the constant shutdowns had been the division’s biggest impediment to providing in-person instruction.
“The widespread community transmission of the virus is causing us to lack staff members,” Strayer said.
The return to fully virtual instruction has provided a brief reprieve for teachers that were previously juggling virtual and in-person instruction, but Hatchett said that instructors are still dealing with hardships.
“Certainly, we hear from the majority of our teachers that virtual learning is difficult in many ways and that it is important for our students to be in the classroom but managing one mode of learning does make their job focus more efficient than managing in-person and virtual learning at the same time,” Hatchett said.
“In our area, the lack of internet for some students poses a real hurdle for virtual learning and there are other factors that prohibit some students from engaging in virtual instruction that don’t always exist in the in-person classroom setting,” she said. “School is running as smoothly as can be expected given our current circumstances.”
Since the division returned to virtual instruction, they have been able to still provide meals to students.
“We are pleased to be able to offer meal delivery to all students during virtual learning,” Hatchett said. “During hybrid learning, meals must be picked up at school because buses are being used to transport students and can’t deliver meals to virtual learners.”
As of Dec. 4, Henry County has experienced 1,997 positive cases, 181 hospitalizations and 41 deaths from COVID-19.
The county currently falls under the “high risk” category under VDH’s Core Indicators to help schools make decisions about in-person instruction. The total number of cases per capita in the county over the past two weeks is 584.9. This coincides with 17.7 percent of positive RT-PCR tests during the last 14 days.
Secondary indicators are more positive for the county. There has been a 29.7 percent swing in the number of per capita cases for the last seven days compared to the previous seven days. The area is listed at “moderate” risk when looking at inpatient hospital beds in the region, with 87.8 percent of beds occupied. The number of beds occupied by COVID-19 patients is almost eight percent, which is categorized as a “lower risk.”