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Local officials collaborate to reassure county residents as school year begins

Staff Written Featured, Front Page, News

By Patrick Yost

Editor 

As coronavirus cases continue to rise in Morgan County, in surrounding counties, and throughout the State of Georgia, local officials are working on a Public Service Announcement to reassure citizens during the ongoing pandemic. 

“We have a plan,” said Morgan County Adam Mestres. 

Mestres informed the Morgan County Board of Commissioners during a regular meeting on Tuesday Aug. 4, that the county partnered with the City of Madison, The Chamber of Commerce, the Morgan County School System, and the local medical community to create a public service announcement to be released later this week as children return to school. 

“The virus is still here and with school starting on Thursday as cases go up, people are nervous,” explained Mestres. “But we want to let people know that the school system has  a plan in effect and I think that is important to get out there.”

Before classes have even resumed, three Morgan County High School; football players tested positive for the coronavirus in late July after in-person practices began. According to Assistant Superintendent Jay Homan, no one else since on the football team has tested positive. 

Mestres believes children need to return to school and that the school system along with local governments are up for the challenge to keep students, teachers, and citizens safe. 

“We need to respect the virus, but we have to continue living,” said Mestres. “School is going to reopen. We have government to maintain and to run and we will continue to do everything we can to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus.”

While the county will release a Public Service Announcement this week through various social media platforms and its website, the Morgan County Charter School System has released operational guidelines for when school reopens this Thursday. 

“The Morgan County Charter School System will continue to monitor the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as we prepare for the coming school year,” said Superintendent Dr. Virgil Cole. 

The school system has identified a list of administrative guidelines for “ways to best support a safe learning environment.”

The school intends to promote behaviors among students, teachers, and staff that are designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the highly contagious and potentially lethal coronavirus. 

Masks will be strongly encouraged, but not required. However, in situations where physical distance is difficult or impossible, the school system expects teachers and students to wear masks. Social distancing will be practiced when possible. Those behaviors include teaching and reinforcing healthy hygiene practices, with hand sanitizer available throughout each building and in every classroom. School administrators will be working with parents and families to make sure children stay home when sick and going through proper protocol before kids can return to school after being sick. Students and teachers who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 will be encouraged to stay home. 

Remote learning will be made available to students who are home sick or who are quarantining. 

According to the school system’s administrative guidelines,  sanitation practices will be stepped up to ensure frequently touched areas and surfaces, such as playgrounds, door handles, sink handles and drinking fountains, will be cleaned and disinfected at least daily or between use as much as possible. Students and staff will be encouraged to bring personal water bottles from home, instead of drinking from water fountains. 

Each school will try a variety of scenarios to feed children throughout the day.

“Each school will provide meals in the classroom, outside or in the cafeteria with a reduced number of students,” said the release from the school system. “Non-essential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving external groups or organizations will be limited. Buses will be cleaned and disinfected daily. Bus riders will be strongly encouraged to wear a face covering while riding the bus.”

The school system’s protocol for signs of illness on campus includes immediate isolation and a mandatory stay-at-home policy if sick. 

“All students and employees who are sick are required to stay home,” said the school system’s release. “Employees and students who become sick or exhibit symptoms at school or work will be

immediately isolated and not allowed to remain at school. All schools will have a room to isolate

symptomatic individuals.For non-COVID-19 related illnesses (where a student is running a fever), the student must be fever free for 72 hours or provide a doctor’s release to return to school.”

The stay-at-home policy will apply to all students and employees who have COVID-19 symptoms, test positive, or have been in close contact in the last 14 days of someone diagnosed with COVID-19. The school system has defined “close contact” as coming within six feet of someone with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes. 

The school system is partly relying on the honor system to track students or employees who may be sick. 

“Employees and students/guardians (on behalf of students) will be asked to self-report to the

school nurse or principal if they have COVID-19 symptoms,” said the release. “Additional screening measures, including temperature scanning, will take place in all areas of the system where a positive diagnosis has been made.”

According to the release, “Quarantined students will have access to their education through Google Classroom. Teacher created work packets may be sent home for those without reliable internet.”

The school system has pledged to cooperate with state health agencies in regards to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“If a Morgan County Charter School System employee or student has a confirmed case of COVID-19, the system will follow the Georgia Department of Public Health’s guidelines for returning to work/school safely. In accordance with state and local laws and regulations, school administrators will notify local health officials, staff, and families of those who may have been in close contact with the individual in a timely manner,” said the release. 

School officials will make decisions about returning to school for persons with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 “in the context of local circumstance,” considering the rate of transmission in the school, the rate of transmission in the community and various resource needs. 

According to the release, “symptomatic persons with confirmed COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 can return to school after at least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery defined as resolution of fever, without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory

symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath.”  

The school system is also requiring that at least 10 days pass since symptoms first appeared.

The school system is requiring asymptomatic persons with confirmed COVID-19 wait to return to school after at least 10 days have passed since the positive laboratory test and the person remains

asymptomatic.

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