innoculation

One can’t have a meeting of a School Board these days without someone wondering about the viral elephant in the room. Ever since the pandemic started, Westmoreland County’s School Board has been getting regular updates on the Coronavirus situation from Dr. Williams, the Director of the Three Rivers Health District, and the most recent regular meeting in August was no exception.

The update came during a presentation from Superintendent Dr. Perry, and the rest of that presentation is in a neighboring article. At the time of the meeting, Dr. Williams indicated that cases had gone down to 122,000 cases per day on average across multiple states. 2,000 of those daily cases pop up here in Virginia. In the Three Rivers health district, the cases per day shot up from less than 20 per day to around 300.

“The good news is that intensive care units and ventilators are nowhere near capacity,” Dr. Williams stated, “So from a critical care perspective, we’re still okay.”

Naturally, at the heart of this uptick is the delta variant of the virus, which now comprises most of the cases found in the Commonwealth. There have also been a number of outbreaks that took place in the Three Rivers district, and at present, the schools in Westmoreland County got hit with their first cases, though only 4 folks have been found to have it as of the August update. Across the district, about 500 people were stuck in quarantines.

The delta variant, according to Dr. Williams, is dramatically more contagious, even in children, and as a result of the increased viral load, more kids are getting sick, and some are getting hospitalized, though the jury is out on whether or not this is actually due to an increase in virulence.

It’s also hoped that vaccines for kids, along with booster shots, will be available later this year. While breakthrough infections do happen in vaccinated individuals, rates of those are still low, and those that are vaccinated rarely end up in the hospital if they do get re-infected. Here in Three Rivers, most of the counties in the district have at least 60% of their population vaccinated, and it’s hoped that the younger folks will also get the shot soon.

The CDC, meanwhile, has declared that masks should be worn indoors by everyone, regardless of vaccination status, if they are in an area of high transmission. Community transmission levels, meanwhile, range from substantial to high. Mitigation of this includes standard stuff like social distancing, washing hands, staying home when sick, and promoting vaccination. Consistent and correct use of masks is also listed, but a tricky one, especially for younger students.

That said, according to Dr. Williams, a K-12 indoor classroom is excluded from “close contact” viral definition if an infected and exposed student are both properly masked. For example, if one of the kids in a class tests positive for COVID, chances are nobody in the class will have to quarantine, assuming everybody correctly wore their masks. This in particular is expected to be a big help in keeping in-person learning going, though it remains to be seen if that continues as cases go on the rise. In the end, it’s about balancing the risk of exposing students to COVID versus the risks of keeping them out of school.

“We’re watching schools in other states so that we have an idea of what we’re going to be in for,” Dr. Williams concluded, “If we end up with a lot of cases in school, we’ll keep as many kids in school that we can, and deal with quarantines and closures as they happen. Hopefully, we may be coming out of the woods by the time of October or November. We’ll just have to remain flexible.”

As of this meeting and the August 31 meeting, the School Board has not gone to a hybrid or remote learning schedule.