By Tia Lynn Ivey
Just one week after students returned from a long winter break, 162 Morgan County students have been sent back home to quarantine after being exposed to active COVID-19 cases. More than four percent of Morgan County’s student population is currently under quarantine as of press time on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
The increase in coronavirus cases locally and subsequent quarantines due to exposure are reaching spikes seen over the summer when school first resumed.
“We are definitely monitoring our local numbers, which are similar to what we experienced back in August,” said Dr. Virgil Cole, superintendent of Morgan County Schools. “We know that we have to be flexible and cognizant of what the data and latest guidance is from the Department of Public Health and local health officials.”
Currently, nine Morgan County students and two staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. The number of students quarantined at home due to exposure at school is 162, or about 4.5 percent of all Morgan County Students. However, Cole noted that the number of students home quarantining could be even higher, since the school is only aware of the number of students quarantining because of exposure at school. Other absent students could be also quarantining because of exposure outside of school.
“There are probably more than the 138 students quarantined last week. Because we were coming off a break, there may be additional students who were exposed or quarantined during that time due to home exposure,” explained Cole.
On Jan. 8, a primary school student tested positive, resulting in a whopping 60 students and six staff members having to be quarantined due to exposure.
Other cases and quarantines were identified throughout all last week.
On Jan. 6, the school system was notified of a middle school student testing positive for the coronavirus and determined 17 other students had come into contact with the infect ed students and were sent home to quarantine. On Jan. 7, the school system was notified of one elementary school student testing positive and sent home 12 students to quarantine as a result. The same day, Another middle school student tested positive, leading to 13 more students being sent home to quarantine. Also on Jan. 7, a high school student tested positive, resulting in 19 high school students having to quarantine. A school staff member tested positive, but no close contacts were determined in that case. On Jan. 8, another high school student tested positive resulting in 17 students being quarantined. On Jan. 11, another high school student tested positive, resulting in eight more students being sent home to quarantine. On the same day, another elementary school student tested positive , resulting in six more students being sent home to quarantine. On Tuesday, Jan. 12, another high school student tested positive, restyling in 10 more student to be quarantined.
In addition to quarantined students, nearly 200 students have opted for Morgan County virtual learning program, declining any in-person classes. Morgan County teachers are stretched thin between students in the virtual learning program and the newly-quarantined students having to learn from home.
“It’s incredibly stressful for teachers and families to have a child in quarantine,” said Susan Tolbert, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. Tolbert noted that teachers are struggling to adequately keep at-home students caught up due to the gaps in Internet accessibility across Morgan County.
To help students and teachers catch up, the BOE approved a revised school calendar adding two addition digital learning days on Jan. 29 and Feb. 12.
Cole pledged to monitor the situation closely.
“This will be a day-to-day/week-by-week situation for the foreseeable future, especially with staffing,” said Cole before the BOE meeting on Monday, Jan. 11. “We are asking our Board tonight to approve adding a couple of digital learning days to our second semester calendar,” said Cole. The board unanimously approved the new Digital learning days.
“We have found these to be very beneficial as we work through this pandemic. We learned a lot the first semester, so hopefully we can successfully navigate this with the same success.”