Local students return to school amid record spike in COVID-19 | Education

In-person classes will resume for Charlottesville and, presumably, Albemarle County students on Monday after a week-long delay, but omicron could make it difficult to return.

As schools were closed last week, the Blue Ridge Health District reported 2,260 new cases. The district is averaging 322 new cases on average over a seven-day period, eclipsing records set during the 2021 winter surge.

With numbers rising so rapidly, school systems have been sharing plans for a potential shift to virtual learning. The decision to move to online classes will be made on a class-by-class and school-by-school basis and based on several parameters, the superintendents said.

For Charlottesville, these metrics include employee absences, school case counts, and student absences.

“I use these three things, but I listen and watch what is happening in the schools. I’m just not going to let this create a situation where it overburdens our staff members,” Charlottesville Schools Superintendent Royal Gurley Jr. told council members last week.

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In the past week, 25 Charlottesville students have reported positive COVID-19 results to the school division, along with 30 employees, according to the division’s dashboard. Albemarle County did not update its scorecard this week.

“I’m not naive enough to believe that the number of reported cases we have are all cases,” said Beth Baptist, acting director of human resources and student services for Charlottesville City Schools.

Gurley said directors have spent the past week developing pivot plans that detail how they will deploy computers and WiFi access points, among other aspects, if a switch is needed.

To track staff absences, Gurley said managers and central office will use a shared document to provide live data. Each school has a minimum number of teachers and support staff needed to operate. If a school falls below this number for consecutive days, administrators will evaluate the options.

Although the number of cases has reached record highs in recent weeks, Gurley and other school officials have pointed to the first few months of the school year as proof that they can keep schools safe using a range of measures. attenuation.

In the community. COVID-19 sets a record with the number of cases, most recently created by the highly contagious omicron variant.

In a message to families this week, Albemarle Schools Superintendent Matt Haas said the division will monitor COVID-19 cases by class and school and its ability to staff each class and school. Administrators would use this data and consult with the health district on whether a class or school should temporarily go online.

For Charlottesville, all other measures, such as social distancing and 14-day quarantine, will remain in place. Council members also said they support keeping the mask policy in place even if state orders change. They also want to see more high quality masks such as KN95s for staff members.

Gurley said the division is considering purchasing those masks for employees. The division has money but is constrained by the availability of masks.

“To get them, we’re at the mercy of the supply chain and what they want to charge right now,” Gurley said.

Albemarle County spokesman Phil Giaramita said the division is providing KN95 masks upon request and has enough supplies to equip all employees. The division also has an adequate supply of paper masks to meet student needs, he said.

The Albemarle County School Board will hear a COVID update at its next meeting on January 13.

The health district will hold a virtual town hall at 7 p.m. Monday to discuss the latest data and federal guidelines. For more information, visit fb.me/e/1mvPs6Gxo.

Charlottesville has partnered with the state on a COVID-19 screening program that tests participants weekly. It resumes next week. The division is also looking to pilot a program that will allow students to take a COVID-19 test in order to stay in school rather than self-quarantine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month endorsed this “test to stay” approach as a way to keep children in school.

Through the state partnership, the division received about 270 PCR tests, which detect the presence of a virus if you have the virus at the time of testing. However, that number is not enough to implement a testing program to remain division-wide, Baptist said. She contacted testing companies to inquire about getting more tests.

Charlottesville School Board President Lisa Larson-Torres said the school system is in a different place than it was a year ago when all classes were virtual.

“We act out of a lot of fear and the unknown,” she said, “but we’ve done very well. I am very proud of this division and what we have put in place. But I don’t want to deny the new fear people are dealing with right now.

Larson-Torres said she was committed to having students in the building and to doing so in a safe manner.

“We have to continue to wear a mask, wash our hands and socially distance – all these layered approaches that we know,” she said. “We must remain vigilant.”

Helen D. Jessen