Anybody that was hoping for an end to the lockdowns due to the advent of the vaccine will have been in for some disappointment by now. Over the course of the last two months, cases of people testing positive for the Coronavirus surged. Westmoreland County’s School Board has held regular meetings with Dr. Williams, the District Director of the Three Rivers Health District; December’s meeting was no exception.

According to Dr. Williams at the time, the country underwent a surge in coronavirus cases. In Virginia, the new case rate has increased, and health systems were starting to feel the strain, with 77% ICU occupancy and 30% of the ventilators in use that month.

“Those are higher numbers than I’ve seen through the pandemic, and I’ve been tracking it pretty closely,” he stated, before moving over to his risk assessment for schools.

“Every jurisdiction in the state is at the highest CDC risk levels except for three. Every jurisdiction in the Three Rivers Health District is at a high risk level currently. We’ve continued to have high case counts in Three Rivers.”

It’s primarily community-transmitted in this situation, according to Dr. Williams. For Westmoreland County, the December metrics were to the tune of 825 cases per 100,000 people in the 14 days prior to that month’s meeting, which put the county in the highest-risk category.

On the subject of transmitting COVID through schools, however, things looked a little bit brighter, with Dr. Williams noting that “Despite the high rates of community transmission, we’ve only been able to link virus transmission in the schools to four schools across three systems. They were all small events, detected quickly; however, they did result in quarantine and in a few cases, reverting to virtual learning.

“When you look at the risk picture, and understand that while, yes, there is a powerful risk of the virus in the community right now, there are also large risks to students staying out of school, including nutritional problems. The experienced-based data has shown us that we can keep kids in learning mode with reasonable protections in place and adhered to. The virus has not shown us thus far that we need to abandon in-person learning and go to virtual learning.”

Looking forward at the time, Dr. Williams also stated that the surge in cases was probably related to exposures that happened over the course of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” he concluded. “Some jurisdictions are looking to delay the return in January just to see what happens, while others are keeping with their hybrid learning. What’s needed is the ability to be flexible with what happens.”

Chairman Ralph Fallin chimed in near the end of the report, stating, “I don’t have any questions about whether schools are safe. I’ve seen how much our administrators and custodial staff clean the place up. I think one of the factors in these decisions is also the stress level of the teachers and administrators with underlying health conditions, and that seems like a major factor in deciding whether we do in-person or virtual learning.”

Fortunately, the news wasn’t all bad. With the vaccine out in record time. A little over 9 months since the start of the lockdowns, doses have been going out across the country, though distribution at the state level can be problematic in some areas. Healthcare workers are among those that have been getting vaccinated, and at this month’s meeting, with any luck, the development of the situation will be clearer.