What started as 15 days to slow the spread of the Coronavirus has turned into day 300 of a lockdown in many places. Some schools in parts of the county have shut their doors and gone on remote learning, while others have a hybrid model in place, and yet others have decided that they can teach in-person while minimizing the risks to both students and teachers.
At last month’s Westmoreland County School Board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Michael Perry gave an update on what steps were being taken to insure that the students would eventually be able to return to their classrooms. Back around the end of 2020, the school division had been doing a hybrid model, only to be put back into remote learning when a surge of cases took place in the county.
Back at last month’s meeting, Dr. Williams, the director of the Three Rivers Health District, stated that the pandemic’s numbers were getting better nation-wide, and the case rate had been falling in Virginia as well, down to 4,700 cases per day. However, community transmission throughout the commonwealth remained high. Thankfully though, the hospitals were not overwhelmed by the post-holiday surge.
“I don’t think it’s going to be much worse than what we saw over the past few weeks,” Dr. Williams stated to the board during their meeting, “In Three Rivers, we were up to 9,200 cases per day at one point, now we’re down to 6,300.”
While there were several cases of the Coronavirus in students and faculty during the hybrid reopening in the fall last year, none of the cases were due to transmission in the school.
“I think we’ve proven across the Commonwealth that as long as mitigation is adhered to, we can keep kids in school without documented outbreaks,” Dr. Williams continued.
The other big piece of news from Dr. Williams involved the start of vaccinations for the school systems. The trouble, according to Dr. Williams, is that we’re only receiving 20% of what is capable of being distributed, but the faculty are getting priority, and was optimistic that the first round of vaccines could be finished around February.
Unfortunately for those hoping for a return to normal once more people were vaccinated, Dr. Williams stated that the measures such as masks and distancing would likely stay for some time afterwards.
“Some people think that once they’re vaccinated, that’s a pass to throw out the mitigation measures,” he explained. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The effectiveness of this vaccine in the general populace is unknown, and the virus itself is drifting, so we can’t really reduce our measures until we see the case rate go down. I don’t anticipate that until late summer or early fall.”
Proponents of opening the schools often point to low transmission rates the virus holds among children, arguing that it’s perfectly safe for them to attend school with appropriate mitigation measures in place. Furthermore, those that are clamoring for opening the schools point out that remote learning has been a massive failure in many counties, most notably in Fairfax, and the social and psychological health of the students has suffered dramatically.
Those that prefer to stay on remote learning, meanwhile, proclaim that the risk to teachers is still too great, particularly with elderly teachers that might be easy prey for the virus, and that it is better for all involved to stay hunkered down. The School Board will make its main decision on whether to tentatively reopen or not at its February meeting on February 22.