While Marysville officials are confident that precautions being taking during the school day are limiting the spread of COVID-19, events after hours may be a different story.
Marysville Superintendent Diane Allen told the board of education during a Thursday meeting that starting next week the district will pause rental of facilities to non-school affiliated organizations. The superintendant also stressed that extracurricular activities in general require scrutiny. Allen said the decision on renting facilities will hold until at least mid-January.
As of reporting Friday, the district had 26 student cases and 174 more in quarantine and 10 staff cases with 36 more in quarantine. Allen noted that even during the meeting, additional cases were being reported.
Allen said the district is seeing the greatest increase among students in grades 7-12 and many of those cases can be tracked back to extracurricular activities. She said 35% of the district quarantines can be attributed to after-school activities, with one entire team being forced into isolation while another is currently being investigated.
Allen said the spread among extracurricular participants is having a direct impact on the district’s ability to perform in-person learning.
Union County Health Commissioner Jason Orcena echoed the concerns over sports teams and other groups. He said it can be tough to identify if the virus is being spread during practice, transportation or training, but there are some clear links within groups.
Orcena said the rise in cases among school-age children has resulted in students now comprising 10-20% of active cases in the area. Outside of extracurricular activities, social gatherings seem to be feeding the spread, he said.
One the positive side of the health department’s investigations, the department is not finding wide transmission during the school day, meaning the district’s protocols on mandatory mask wearing and six feet of distancing in classrooms appears to be mitigating the spread.
When asked if the hybrid model was working, Orcena said “I don’t have a strong feeling that it’s not being successful.”
The commissioner said it is impossible to say there has been absolutely no spread within the schools while observing protocols. He said there are some indications of spread in the buildings when precautions were not possible, such as a teacher and student eating lunch where mask wearing is not possible.
“It’s hard to untangle that puzzle,” Orcena said.
Orcena said some of the problem in contract tracing very young students is that they show relatively mild symptoms or none at all. This means an elementary age child could contract the virus, but not be identified as positive until other family member shows signs and the whole group is tested. At that point, it becomes more difficult to identify which member initially brought the virus into the family.
Some of that uncertainty about school spread could be fleshed out through an opportunity the district has as part of two Ohio State University research projects.
One phase of the project will bring a virus testing strategy into the district. Through the program, the district will be able to provide an optional testing strategy to buildings which could eventually help students avoid quarantines.
Essentially, the study will analyze the need for quarantines.
The program will test students identified as being in close contact with an infected person to determine if quarantines are necessary when both parties are properly wearing masks.
Children in grades 1-12 can take part in the study, which requires parental permission. When students are placed in quarantine because of a close contact with a positive case, a school representative will contact the parents to seek permission for the child to take part in the program.
During the program the child will still quarantine for 14 days, but will take part in an antigen test four times. The test involves trained health professional inserting a cotton swab into the child’s nose and then applying it to a testing card. Parents will be provided with the results of the test, which will be ready in about 20 minutes.
The goal of the program is to identify the best procedures for schools to follow surrounding COVID-19 cases, to determine if children who are close contacts need to be quarantined.
Ten districts are participating in the study.
The district will also be taking part in OSU’s “CATS” program, which will work with the health department and schools to compile data in a way that allows the direct impact of the virus on the classroom. The data can then be used to set criteria that allows districts to show the information being used to make decisions about instructional models.
Board member Brian Luke asked Orcena if the district should be concerned about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday as it pertains to the district’s hybrid learning model. He asked if the district should be thinking about preparing for remote learning because of another surge in cases.
Orcena said there is reason to expect numbers to increase.
“Every holiday for last nine months, we see a spike,” he said.
With the community, and entire country, currently riding an increased number of cases following Halloween, the goal should be for the area to hold the current rate after Thanksgiving, Orcena said. He added that the schools must continue to follow their guidelines to do its best to hold down the spread.
...For the full story, select an option below.