By Debbie Hall
An official with the Virginia Department of Health expressed confidence in the Patrick County School division’s response to probable COVID-19 cases encountered in an elementary school.
Nancy Bell, Public Information Officer for the West Piedmont Health District, said the local response followed recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC).
Bell explained that before students returned to the classroom, the director of the West Piedmont Health District, Patrick Schools Superintendent Dean Gilbert and others participated in a half–day training session that focused on creating a response plan to COVID-19. The training session included various scenarios, such as responding to potential cases that spanned multiple school buildings and isolating potential cases.
Bell said she is confident the division implemented that plan following the first week of a hybrid instructional option which allowed students to return to the classroom.
Students in the AA group of the hybrid instructional plan returned to classrooms Monday, Sept. 14. The remainder, the BB group, returned on Thursday, Sept. 17.
School administrators were notified of a “probable COVID-19 exposure” in Stuart Elementary School on Saturday, Sept. 19, Director of Operations and Adult Education, Jason Wood said.
Gilbert said five administrative personnel met in the central office that day to tackle the issue.
The division consulted with two officials from the Virginia Department of Health, and both concurred the incident must be treated as a “probable positive case,” Wood said.
Contact tracing was then implemented to determine which students and staff members spent an extended amount of time in the affected classroom, Wood said.
Affected staff and students were contacted individually, Gilbert said, adding that all were understanding. Other parents were alerted in a pre-recorded telephone call around 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Students that were in that classroom for any extended period of time are quarantined, and because teachers” take turns using the classroom, they also are quarantined, Wood said.
He added an entire grade level is using the all-virtual option for the next two weeks.
“We are erring on the side of extreme caution,” Wood said. “We’re hoping new information will be given to us later this week so that we can remove some of the restrictions.” Hypothetically, that could include a negative test result, he added.
Gilbert and Wood declined to identify the grade level due to privacy concerns.
“Even though it did affect one entire grade, I’m thankful one grade at one school was the only one affected,” Gilbert said.
Brandon Simmons, chairman of the Patrick County School Board, also said Monday that administrators addressed the situation by following the response plan already in place.
“Just because we said there’s a potential case doesn’t mean that it happened at the school,” Simmons said, and added that officials knew the risks when the hybrid plan was implemented.
Walter Scott, vice chairman and of the Smith River District, said Gilbert, other administrators, and staff “are doing a really good job. The plan we have in place right now is a good, responsible way handle it.” He added that parents who have called him “have been thankful for the choice provided by the hybrid plan.
Amy Walker, of the Mayo River District, also said the administration had “put together a great (response) plan, so we were prepared for when it happened.”
Simmons said he anticipates a special meeting of the school board will be called to discuss the situation.
Shannon Harrell, of the Blue Ridge District, and Ryan Lawson, of the Peters Creek District, could not be reached for comment Monday.
Wood and Gilbert said mitigation strategies, such as wearing personal protective equipment and observing social distancing guidelines, have been and are being followed in classrooms throughout the division.
School officials have said 65 percent of families decided to participate in the hybrid option, compared to 35 percent continuing with the all-virtual option.
The division has since been contacted by other families who want to switch to the hybrid plan from the all-virtual option, Gilbert said.
“Last week went really well,” he added.
Additional details will be provided as they are received.
(Taylor Boyd contributed to this report.)