Students return despite spiking COVID cases

Hancock County remains in the red, and is in fact in the top five in the state for average incidents in the state’s measurements, but students returned to school Monday, although Superintendent Kyle Estes says enough is known about COVID-19 to be able to do it safely.

“I’ve been asked, OK, well what’s the difference now versus say, August when you’re making that decision and looking at that community spread metric?” Estes said.  “To me the big difference is we’ve got at least a little bit of idea of what spread within schools is going to look like, versus (in) August it was all speculation.”

Despite nearly all of the state being in the red category, which had previously been the point at which all in-person schooling had been strongly recommended to close, Governor Andy Beshear revised the guidance to allow in-person schooling despite the higher numbers.
“Right before Christmas break the governor outlined the steps to go to school in the red category,” he said.

The new steps included following the state’s healthy at school protocols, using a hybrid attendance model, offering virtual learning, and giving students and staff the option to stay home, all of which the county has in place.

To reach red a county must have 25 or more average new cases per 100,000 population on a rolling seven-day average. 

As of January 5, Hancock County was at 113. Those numbers are less important, Estes said, than the improved understanding of the spread of the virus as it relates to schools.
“Starting around November of this past year there’s some research that indicates that that school transmission has been significantly less than what was originally predicted,” he said. “I was one of those that felt like it would be the same, that schools would essentially be super spreaders.”
As of Wednesday the district had around 70 percent of students opting to return to in-person classes, he said, which he took as a vote of confidence from parents and staff on the return.

The district will revisit the numbers every Thursday when they’re released by the state and will monitor its internal virus numbers daily, although he said they haven’t had a major issue with too many staff members being quarantined.
“Obviously if we get to the point where we can’t staff a school or our facilities to a level that keeps them safe and we can effectively implement the safe at school protocols then we’ll have to go back to virtual,” he said.

Vaccines are on the way, but Estes said that they won’t make a practical difference in daily classes, no matter when they show up.
“Some of the information that I’ve heard is we’re still going to have to follow the quarantines if there’s exposures or whether there’s vaccinations present or not,” he said. “And honestly we don’t know for sure when those vaccinations are going to be here and we can get those in employees’ arms.”

By Dave Taylor

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