Mississippi State Department of Health launches school district COVID-19 data | News

Like most other districts throughout Mississippi, all four public school districts serving Monroe County students have witnessed positive COVID-19 cases, leading to quarantines of those who have been in close contact.

While the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) has reported data on its website since late August about how many school-related cases there are for each county, it began reporting numbers last week specific to each school in the state.

The K-12 reports of COVID-19 school cases, outbreaks and exposure link gives a county-by-county breakdown with data for each individual school. Weekly information includes total numbers pertaining to faculty and staff and students who tested positive for COVID-19, the total number of those on quarantine due to exposure and the number of outbreaks since the beginning of the school year.

As preventative measures against COVID-19, students arriving at school daily have their temperatures checked and hand sanitizer applied before entering the buildings.

“I think I’m speaking for anyone in education right now that this is a very challenging time for us. We’re trying to balance the safety of our students with providing a quality education, and it becomes very hectic when we have a combination of students who are virtual learners, traditional learners and those learners who have to be on quarantine or in isolation,” said Monroe County Superintendent of Education Brian Jernigan. “We ask the parents to be patient with us. We adhere to the governor’s executive orders and we implement the state department of health guidelines, and they change quite often. We want to be compliant with our state orders and health guidelines to ensure we’re being as safe as possible.”

Informing stakeholders

As of early last week, the Monroe County School District has had 16 percent of its population in quarantine at some point since the beginning of the school year. Some weeks there are people in quarantine and there are some weeks when no one is in quarantine, but each of the district’s attendance centers has had positive COVID-19 cases.

“We’re going to ensure the safest environment possible while following the state department of health’s guidelines,” Jernigan said.

School districts follow Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act rules in reporting cases, keeping people anonymous whether it’s those who test positive or those on quarantine.

After a person is known to have tested positive for COVID-19, inside or outside of the school setting, or had close contact with someone who has, the Monroe County School District goes through its protocol in addressing it.

“If there are known positive cases that have been at school, we are required to do contact tracing. If someone has been within six feet for 15 minutes or more of someone who has been identified as someone who is positive, we make contact with the parents by phone and we send a letter out to those specific individuals as well, letting them know they have to quarantine. If they’re positive, they have to isolate for 10 days,” Jernigan said.

A separate letter developed by the MSDH is for any students who have been in close contact of a positive case. It is sent to parents, and those students have to quarantine for 14 days. For classes of students who didn’t have any close contact, a general letter is sent informing parents that someone in the class tested positive, and their children should be monitored for the next several days.

“We send out three letters – a positive letter, a quarantine letter and another notification of someone who has tested positive in the group,” Jernigan said. “We don’t do an all-call because it may not affect those people. We let the homes know that may be affected by that positive case.”

He added buildings and buses in the school district are fumigated every day to help sanitize.

Nettleton School District Superintendent Tim Dickerson said, as of early last week, less than two percent of the student population had to quarantine since the beginning of the school year. Per school, he reported less than four percent of the students at Nettleton High School were quarantined, while less than three percent were quarantined at the primary school, and none have been quarantined at the intermediate school.

“We did have to quarantine the entire high school volleyball team and high school band in recent weeks, which was a reason for us to go virtual for a week in the high school,” Dickerson said. “We are disseminating information as needed. We have been truthful with our parents and community. If anyone asks, we try to give them real-time information if it is readily available.”

As of early last week, the Amory School District has reported only one positive COVID-19 case at Amory High School and three at Amory Middle School.

“We immediately notify parents in the case of a possible infection but don’t do districtwide announcements. We keep responses localized. We’ve had more cases of strep throat and stomach viruses than COVID,” said district superintendent Ken Byars.

He said the cases reported in the Amory School District have appeared to be random without any connection to one another.

“Infections appear to have been contracted away from school, but that could all change,” he said.

The Aberdeen School District has experienced a total of two positive cases, resulting in 32 people who had to quarantine, as of early last week. Both instances were at Aberdeen High School. The total of those quarantined is less than one percent of students, staff and faculty.

District superintendent Jeff Clay said protocol with both positive cases has been to send an all-call alert to families and to contact the Monroe Journal.

“In both instances, [AHS Principal] Dr. [Dana] Bullard informed me we had positive cases. The school does contact tracing. At the high school since we’re not changing classes because of the way our model works, we have smaller classes. It doesn’t take a significant amount of time to do the contact tracing. As soon as they got all the contact tracing done and communicated with anyone affected, I send communication to our stakeholders and let the other principals know so they can alert their staffs,” he said.

Clay said he wants to be transparent when there are positive cases in the district.

“We’re not trying to cause any type of uprising or mayhem; we’re just trying to alert our community that this has happened,” he said.

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