HAMLIN — Lincoln County Schools have felt the impact of COVID-19. Superintendent Jeff Kelley said some schools saw a spike in cases following Halloween.
“What we’ve seen here in the last few days, probably since late last week, is a slight uptick, probably (attributed) to our gatherings for Halloween,” Kelley said.
Kelley said Lincoln County as a whole seemed to be seeing a spike in cases, and the school system was no different. Kelley told board members to anticipate some schoolwide and grade-level closures.
“We’re going to see a number of grade-level and school closures over the next couple of days as a result,” Kelley said. “Health services has been very, very busy over the last five or six days with contact tracing.”
Lincoln County Schools adopted its current COVID-19 mitigation policy in August, on the evening before school was set to begin for the 2021-2022 school year. The board met again in a special session Aug. 24, where they unanimously voted to continue following the previously issued COVID-19 mitigation protocols suggested to them by the Lincoln County Health Department.
The policy includes recommendations both for everyday instances, and for when Lincoln County moves into either the orange or red categories on the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources county alert map. Lincoln has remained red for most of the time since school began.
Under the adopted guidance, masks will be required for all students, staff and visitors when Lincoln County is orange or red on the county alert map. The mask requirement will then remain in place until Lincoln County is gold or better on the alert map for three consecutive days. Masks may also be required at individual school sites if school spread is evident, according to the guidance document.
The guidance notes that any student who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition, a mental health condition or disability, and students who would be unable to remove a mask without assistance are not required to wear face coverings. Documentation from a physician must be provided excusing the student from the mask requirement, however.
When Lincoln County is not in the red or orange, masks will still be required on school buses for all students at all times.
Drivers will be asked to wear masks during loading and unloading of passengers. Masks will also be recommended for students, staff members and visitors who are not fully vaccinated for all indoor activities.
The board has also adopted the West Virginia Board of Education’s new quarantine protocols.
The updated rules no longer require a school to quarantine students or staff if a universal mask policy is in place. Contact tracing would only be needed if someone were exposed in the cafeteria or during another extracurricular activity where people are not wearing masks. The state recommends schools limit potential exposure by having students eat in a group of friends or in their classroom.
The definition of a school outbreak has also been changed to keep buildings open if there is a manageable number of cases. A school outbreak will only be declared if more than three cases, or 10%, of students or staff in a specific group test positive for COVID-19. Schools can now only be closed if so many teachers are out sick that it becomes unsafe to hold in-person instruction or double the normal amount of students are absent.
The Lincoln County Board of Education has kept COVID-19 as an action item on all meeting agendas and will continue to do so indefinitely.