By Kendra Hennis
On Thursday, September 30, Tuscola schools superintendent Gary Alexander put out a release stating: “I am sure you have heard that our positive cases and our quarantine numbers at TCHS have risen. 20 percent of our TCHS students are in quarantine at this moment. TCHS is considered an outbreak by state guidelines. Working in conjunction with the Douglas County Health Department, the decision has been made to put Tuscola High School on an adaptive pause.
What does this mean? It means the TCHS Students will be learning via Remote Learning next week. TCHS (sent) information on Friday and presented the expectations for students. In-person learning for TCHS will resume on October 12.
North Ward and East Prairie students will continue with in-person learning next week.
Friday, October 1 (was) an early dismissal for North Ward, East Prairie, and TCHS. The school will dismiss at 1:30.
The Fall play will be postponed to 10/15, 10/16, and 10/17.
I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause households. We will be making sure TCHS is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.”
The school also shut down football and volleyball activities for the time being due to the surge in COVID cases among players, with many in quarantine as a result of contact tracing. It was stated that both plan to resume practice on Monday, October 11 and complete the remaining schedule.
The Center of Disease Control states that, “a phased prevention approach for K–12 schools relies on several core concepts.
* K–12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other prevention measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely. This implies that decision-makers and communities should prioritize schools for reopening and remaining open for in-person instruction over nonessential businesses and activities, including indoor dining, bars, social gatherings, and close contact sports as community transmission is controlled.
* In-person instruction should be prioritized over extracurricular activities, including sports and school events, to minimize risk of transmission in schools and protect in-person learning. Prolonged periods of remote or virtual learning can have negative effects on educational progress for students, potentially slowing or reversing academic gains. Students from low-resourced communities, English learners, and students with disabilities might disproportionately experience learning loss due to limited access to remote learning technology and fewer learning support systems and services outside of schools. Safe in-person schooling can also offset the negative social, emotional, and mental health impacts of prolonged virtual learning. Minimizing the risk of spread during extracurricular activities and social gatherings outside of school can help maintain in-person instruction. Some close-contact sports might not be able to be implemented at any level of community transmission given the risk of transmission and the inability to implement prevention strategies. Schools may consider using expanded screening testing for sports and extracurricular activities to identify cases and reduce risk of transmission from people who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.
* Lower susceptibility and incidence among younger children compared to teenagers suggests that younger students (for example, elementary school students) are likely to have less risk of in-school transmission due to in-person learning than older students (middle schools and high schools). In addition, younger children may benefit more from in-person instruction and are less independent than older students.
* Families of students who are at increased risk of severe illness (including those with special healthcare needs) or who live with people at high risk should be given the option of virtual instruction, regardless of the mode of learning offered.
* Schools are encouraged to use cohorting, especially in areas of substantial (orange) and high (red) transmission, to facilitate testing and contact tracing, and to minimize transmission across cohorts.
Monitoring levels of community transmission provides school leaders with an indicator system for the risk of introduction of SARS-CoV-2 virus into a school. Information about levels of community transmission should be combined with information about cases in schools and implementation of prevention strategies to guide decision-making. Implementation of prevention strategies should be intensified if indicators worsen (i.e., moving from low to moderate to substantial to high community transmission). Intensifying prevention might also involve imposing restrictions on sports and extracurricular activities to protect in-person learning. To make decisions about preventive actions, school and health officials should take the following information into account:
* The numbers of COVID-19 cases among students, teachers, and staff, and number of people in quarantine
* Compliance with prevention strategies
* Levels of community transmission”
In the Douglas County Health Department’s COVID update for the week, they stated that “Tuscola High School is temporarily on remote learning due to an outbreak of COVID cases (at least 21 plus the resulting quarantine of close contacts) that occurred during Homecoming week. I know it’s been a difficult time for all involved, and hope this measure helps to keep new cases to a minimum.”
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, “Outbreak information is reported once clusters of cases are confirmed to be linked by location and time (within 14 days). Some outbreaks are pending processing and evaluation and will be added as more complete information is available. The outbreak information is reported by local health departments to the Illinois Department of Public Health through an outbreak reporting system.
Specific outbreaks included are those that have been identified by the local health department to have two or more COVID-19 cases who may have a shared exposure on school grounds and are from different households. Case counts for school-related outbreaks also include those associated with before and after school programs (e.g., school-sponsored sports). These outbreaks do not include secondary cases that may occur in a household member who has not been on school grounds.”
In the K-12 Operational Strategy, the CDC states that “Regardless of the level of community transmission, it is critical that schools use and layer prevention strategies. Five key prevention strategies are essential to safe delivery of in-person instruction and help to prevent COVID-19 transmission in schools:
1. Universal and correct use of masks
2. Physical distancing
3. Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
4. Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities
5. Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine
Schools providing in-person instruction should prioritize two prevention strategies:
1. Universal and correct use of masks should be required
2. Physical distancing should be maximized to the greatest extent possible.
All prevention strategies provide some level of protection, and layered strategies implemented at the same time provide the greatest level of protection. Schools should adopt prevention strategies to the largest extent practical—a layered approach is essential.”
More information on outbreaks can be found at https://www.dph.illinois.gov/covid19/school-aged-trics?countyName=Douglas. More information on the Illinois State Board of Education’s Public Health School Guidance can be found by visiting https://www.isbe.net/Documents/Updated-Public-Health-School-Guidance-9-21-21.pdf. The Remote Learning Guidance according to the Illinois State Board of Education can be found at https://www.isbe.net/Documents/Remote-Learning-Guidance-Chart.pdf#search=adaptive%20pause. The Center of Disease Control’s K-12 School Operational Strategy is available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/operation-strategy.html.