By Dawn Hatfield
GREENVILLE — The World Health Organization is tracking a new COVID-19 variant, Mu, which has been detected in 43 countries, including the U.S., according to a Sept. 2 WebMD News Brief. It is a “variant of interest” due to its “potential properties of immune escape,” meaning Mu may be better able to evade antibodies and make even those individuals with prior immunity sick. Meanwhile, the Delta variant, a now dominant form of the virus in the U.S. and elsewhere, is already causing significant case surges. These two variants alone are a stark reminder the pandemic is not nearly concluded.
With the ever-changing COVID landscape come ever-changing protocols. For instance, many local schools have already updated their quarantine guidelines during the first weeks of fall semester or did so before the school doors even opened. Greenville City School District announced on Aug. 26 the district will now follow ‘Darke County’s Guidelines for Quarantine After Exposure in K-12 Setting’ as presented by the Darke County General Health District and Family Health.
What will happen under the newest guidelines if a student becomes exposed? It is important to first understand what constitutes “contact.” According to Darke County Guidelines, “a ‘contact’ of a positive COVID-19 case is someone who is unmasked and within three feet of a positive COVID-19 case for more than 15 cumulative minutes in a 24-hour time period.” If determined a “contact,” the guidelines begin by differentiating between those who are vaccinated, documented to have COVID-19 antibodies, and/or documented to have been previously COVID-positive versus those who are unvaccinated and/or undocumented.
If vaccinated/documented, the individual will be able to stay at school and participate in extra curricular activities while wearing a mask for seven days.
If unvaccinated/undocumented, the individual will have two main options:
1. Quarantine at home for 10 days — OR —
2. Continue to attend school while wearing a mask and eating away from others — AND —
2a. Consent to testing between days five and seven (if negative and symptom-free, can unmask after day seven) — OR —
2b. Refuse testing and wear mask full 10 days
Of course, if at any point an individual tests positive for COVID-19 or develops COVID symptoms, that person would require home quarantine.
In keeping with its promise of transparency, Greenville CSD sent home letters to parents on Sept. 2 indicating a confirmed COVID-19 case at the K-8 facility. One day later, the positive count was eight individuals, district wide. Following Labor Day, two more cases were reported, totaling 10 cases at the time of publication. According to the most recent data on the State of Ohio School Reporting site (Sept. 2), there are at least three additional Darke County public schools with one or more positive case(s) at present.
Mr. Douglas Fries, in his Superintendent’s message on the Greenville CSD site, stresses the importance of self-monitoring and encourages families to use the thermometers provided by Wayne Healthcare, which were distributed throughout the schools last year. Do not go to school with a temperature over 100.0 degrees. Also watch carefully for cough, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, or new loss of taste/smell. Furthermore, any two of the following symptoms should also be considered an alert: fever, chills, rigors, muscle soreness, headache, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, congestion/runny nose. Report these symptoms to the school as well as any positive COVID-19 testing or possible contact. This helps to protect everyone and slow the virus’s spread.
Though the community, the country, and the world are suffering from pandemic fatigue, it clearly is not yet time to ease up on precautions. In July, the Darke County General Health District was regularly reporting single digit numbers of positive COVID-19 cases weekly; the most recent data is averaging more than 100 new cases per week. This is the upward trend Darke County Health Commissioner, Dr. Terrence Holman, DVM, RS, warned readers about in mid-August as numbers of new positive cases have grown from 34 (Aug. 2) and 35 (Aug. 9) to 72 (Aug. 16), 107 (Aug. 23) and, finally, 122 (Aug. 30) with each passing week.
The CDC recommendations for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools include several strategies individuals can implement themselves:
— Get vaccinated as the leading public health prevention strategy.
— Practice universal indoor masking regardless of vaccination status, in response to the Delta variant.
— Maintain three feet physical distance whenever possible.
— Stay home when sick.
— Use proper hand washing and respiratory etiquette.
The state guidelines for exposure remind us, “Ohio’s goal is to keep K-12 students in school, in person five days a week. Students benefit cognitively, emotionally, and developmentally from in-person learning.” The experts’ message: We aren’t out of the woods yet; remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19.
Dawn Hatfield covers education stories for The Daily Advocate. Have a school-related event to share? Reach out by email at [email protected] or by phone at 937-569-0066.