By Drew Bergman
At a quarter past four o’clock Monday afternoon, Adair County Superintendent Pamela Stephens put out a school messenger call to notify the parents of Adair Band students that there had been a positive COVID test among their ranks.
The message further stated that band practices would cease for the next two weeks, which is the standard window for isolating people who have been in direct contact with someone who is infected with COVID-19.
A day later, in response to repeated calls and messages, Adair County Schools put out their first comment about the incident in a statement to the media:
“Adair County Schools were notified yesterday that a high school student tested positive for COVID-19. Yesterday afternoon we were also informed of a non-related, high school staff member receiving a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. We will continue notifying the media of any additional positive cases within our student body and staff family. Our prayers are with all persons being affected by the Coronavirus.”
Later that evening, Dr. Stephens verified that the student was a member of the band and that the message had gone out to cancel band practices and the following morning went on WAIN 93.5 to discuss the suspension of band practice as well as Monday’s reports from the Lake Cumberland District Health Department (LCDHD) which listed our four confirmed cases among the school-aged population: a four-year-old girl, an 11-year-old boy, a 17-year-old boy, and a 17-year-old girl.
“Yes, our community realizes just like we do that the health department has said that we have numerous cases that are school-aged children,” Dr. Stephens said to WAIN. “Yes, they probably are our students at our school, but there’s no reason that that would be reported to us.”
Though there is no mechanism for the health department to report cases directly to the schools, contact tracing protocols will alert affected faculty, staff, and the parents of students who had been recently exposed.
In an email response to questions regarding health department policy on testing and notifications, Adair County Health Department Health Education Coordinator Jelaine Harlow said the following:
“When an individual becomes positive with COVID-19 the following steps are taken. Positive tests go to the health department in the county the positive case resides. Once the health department receives the results, we contact the positive person and the contact tracing begins. Contact tracing begins with an interview of the positive COVID-19 patient and obtaining details regarding the patient’s contacts, who they have interacted with and where they have gone recently. The tracers will be concerned with the contacts during the time period beginning 48 hours prior to the onset of illness. The next step involves locating people with whom the infected person has interacted and contacting those individuals. Guidance will be provided regarding self-isolation and monitoring for symptoms.”
Mrs. Harlow reiterated that the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a mask, social distance six feet apart, wash your hands, and stay home if feeling sick.
“We want everybody to be very comfortable when their kids are on campus,” Superintendent Stephens told WAIN. “The closer we get to August 24 the more nervous people get. We’re anxious and it’s not always in a positive way. We do promise that we will keep kids safe, that’s just a priority with us. It’s not just students, we have 389 staff members that we care deeply about as well.”
Around three o’clock local time WDRB in Louisville reported that the Oldham County School Board unanimously passed a temporary policy changing the school dress code to mandate masks be worn by students from “Kindergarten through 12th grade… school hours, on the bus, in hallways, and whenever social distancing isn’t possible.” The policy does make exceptions for students with certain health conditions.
Adair County Schools are only mandating masks for employees. “We will be saying that staff have to wear masks just like how we will be asking students to wear masks and we will be sharing with students why,” Dr. Stephens told WAIN. “I keep saying it’s respect for the other person, and it’s certainly safety for the other person.
“The masks are important, but we do believe that classrooms will be socially distanced. [After that] it’s the teacher’s say as to their staying put, they can drop their mask.”
Earlier this week, Adair County Schools had sent out a parent survey where they asked parents for their feedback on district’s plans to reopen and their plans for their children. Superintendent Stephens said that the survey had only a 50 percent response rate and that of that 50 percent only half of respondents planned to have their children in class this fall.
To help serve the needs of those students who will not be in class, ACS is continuing to develop their distance learning capabilities. “We are working diligently on our virtual platform to where it will respond well [and be] user friendly,” Dr. Stephens said. “So, the expectation on virtual will be the same as if they were face-to-face. We’re going to be teaching, not drilling and practice.
Dr. Stephens continued to discuss the recommendations the health department has issued regarding how to proceed in the event of a positive COVID-19 test among the school population:
“During the school year we will call and say, Ms. So-and-so’s class at ACPC has an active case and those students will be sent home and that teacher will be sent home and that’s the way we expect it to happen by the guidelines that we’re getting from the health department,” said Dr. Stephens.
“Their suggestion is that once you have two cases, but not in the same classroom,” she gave the example of a case in the kindergarten and one in second grade, “At that point they want you to start considering closing that school. I don’t know that’s the way ours will go. That’s our guidance at this point.”
With the news that four school-aged children and one teacher already have confirmed cases ahead of the school year, Superintendent Stephens discussed the limits of what can be expected from schools in the midst of a pandemic.
“We cannot guarantee that no one is going to have COVID-19, that’s unrealistic. It’s just like the flu, we can’t guarantee,” Dr. Stephens told WAIN. “Just because they ride a bus, or just because they came to school doesn’t mean that’s where they got it. Nobody’s getting it in our school right now and they’re getting it and our numbers are growing. And the numbers have grown because the testing has grown. Not a really solid indicator with the tester that more are having it, just that we have more testing.”
Health Education Coordinator Jelaine Harlow cautioned against thinking regarding testing, saying: “COVID 19 is widespread in the community. More testing is being done to identify positive individuals. However, those individuals would be positive and spreading COVID-19 even if they have not been tested and identified.”
The Adair County School Board will meet at 6:00 this evening.