As the delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread statewide, the Warren County School Board, in a special meeting on September 8, unanimously approved a recommendation requiring members of the Warren County schools staff and student-athletes get COVID-19. -19 vaccine.
At the same time, the board also approved a voluntary COVID-19 testing program for other staff and students that went into effect on Monday.
One in progress challenge
Acting Superintendent Keith Sutton told the board that the first few weeks of the 2021-22 school year resulted in a “relatively soft opening,” but included a number of challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He said the positive test results had led to hundreds of quarantines.
The impact of the virus has been felt throughout the Warren County school system. Vaughan Elementary School and Warren County High School returned to in-person teaching last week after staff shortages linked to COVID-19 forced schools to switch to distance learning for several days.
Two medical professionals took to the board virtually to discuss the impact of the delta variant of COVID-19 and suggestions for reducing the spread of the virus.
Dr Kanecia Zimmerman of The ABC Science Collaborative reported that the delta variant of COVID-19 is as contagious as chickenpox.
According to its website, The ABC Science Collaborative is a program that pairs scientists and doctors with school and community leaders to help understand the most recent and relevant information about COVID-19. The program is funded by the National Institutes of Health and coordinated by Duke University School of Medicine and Duke Clinical Research Institute.
Zimmerman said measures such as wearing masks and staying home when sick have helped many schools slow the spread of COVID-19. However, she recommended COVID-19 vaccination as the best way to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases.
“If you are vaccinated you are much less likely to spread COVID-19,” she said.
Zimmerman also recommended other precautions, such as finding alternatives to the traditional lunch where students sit with their classmates in cafeterias. She said that because the students are close to each other when they take off their masks to eat, anyone who is sick could easily pass the virus on to others.
Zimmerman also said student-athletes should be a top priority, citing data indicating that much of the transmission of COVID-19 in high schools comes from sports.
Warren County Health Director Dr Margaret Brake told the board of directors that people in the 25-29 age group accounted for the most cases of COVID-19 in Warren County, followed of the 50-64 age group.
She noted that as of September 7, 50% of Warren County residents had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 47% were considered fully immunized.
However, Brake warned that only 3 percent of young people aged 12 to 17 had been vaccinated and 38 percent of young adults aged 18 to 24 were vaccinated.
“I support universal masking,” she said. “More work is needed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Warren County. “
A multi-faceted response
Sutton told the board last week that schools in Warren County need to consider a number of strategies, in addition to the precautions already in place, to keep students and staff safe this year. However, he said vaccination must be the top priority.
At the start of the meeting, Board Chair Jennifer Sims read the public comments that had been submitted electronically. Several parents have expressed concerns about COVID-19 and have called for Warren County schools to revert to system-wide virtual learning or the staggered schedule used in the spring when half of a school’s students were in school. class on some days and the other half was in class on the other days.
Sutton told the council that recent legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Roy Cooper, Senate Bill 654, says schools can use distance learning for up to five days at a time. in emergencies such as the staff shortages created by COVID-19. However, he indicated that the new legislation does not give school boards the power to close schools and switch to long-term virtual learning . Sutton noted that the legislation provides for a process to request long-term school closures that would involve the school system, the Warren County Board of Commissioners and the Warren County Department of Health.
He added that legislation does not allow school systems to follow a staggered schedule in which students are in class.
Sutton reiterated the goal of Warren County schools to offer face-to-face instruction while minimizing the spread of COVID-19 and quarantines.
“Virtual education does not provide an optimal environment for learning,” he said.
Sutton said school systems may not adopt a staggered schedule under the new legislation.
H said students and school staff are required to wear masks indoors whether or not they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. He said schools also use air purifiers and daily ventilation and temperature checks.
Sutton added that all schools have been asked to provide space to eat their meals outside, indicating that if a student seated at a cafeteria table with classmates tests positive for COVID-19, all students must be quarantined.
Vaccinations and tests
Sutton said that with these precautions in place, a vaccination and voluntary testing plan remains the best option to ensure the safety of students and staff.
“Our plan is focused on vaccine-eligible adults and student athletes who account for the majority of the spread and are at high risk,” he said.
In a survey of teachers and school system staff, 213 of 245 responding employees have already received the COVID-19 vaccine, Sutton reported.
In response to the continuing dangers of the virus, especially the potential for spreading in schools and at sporting events, the school system has developed a recommendation for a mandate to vaccinate school system employees and student-athletes.
Under the plan approved by the board, school system employees and unvaccinated student-athletes would have until October 9 to receive the first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or to obtain a single-dose vaccine. . They will have until November 8 to receive the second dose of a two-dose vaccine.
Exemptions can be requested for medical or religious reasons and would require employees to be tested once a week as part of the school system’s new COVID-19 testing program, and would require student-athletes to be tested twice a week .
The Warren County Schools Voluntary COVID-19 Testing Program, known as WeCare, applies to both school system employees and students, whether or not they have been vaccinated.
Heather Lawing, head of school system communications and engagement, explained that testing will be done weekly at schools and work sites with the district. Students and staff will dab the inside of their mouths. Laboratory results should be available within 24 to 48 hours. The tests will take place on Monday.
Sutton said parental consent forms were distributed last week.
In response to questions from the board, Zimmerman said that the risk of vaccinated people developing the Delta variant of COVID-19 is much lower than in unvaccinated people. However, she recommended testing for vaccinated employees and students as another way to keep everyone safe.
The school system plan requires that student-athletes be tested. However, those who are vaccinated will only be tested once a week.
Sutton said the Warren County community as a whole will play an important role in maintaining the health of students and staff in the school system. He urged the general public to get vaccinated.
He said the education council’s action will show how serious Warren County schools are in their work to slow the spread of COVID-19 and that the school system believes slowing the spread of the virus is a achievable goal.
“We can still slow this down,” Sutton said.