COVID-19

Halifax County Public School head nurse Tina Slabach shares COVID-19 numbers at Halifax County School Board’s Monday meeting.

More than 300 Halifax County Public School students and over 40 employees are currently at home due to isolation or quarantine requirements as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the area.

Head nurse Tina Slabach informed the Halifax County School Board of the rising numbers that resulted over Christmas break at the board’s Monday meeting, prompting one board member to ask what it’s going to take to close schools down.

She also talked of Halifax County’s positivity rate of COVID-19 that since their last meeting had risen from 11.7% in December to 34.8% in January.

The 7-day average also had risen from 13 in December to 55 in January.

A total of 445 positive COVID-19 cases have been reported by Halifax County Public Schools since Aug. 30, which could be students or employees, according to the school system’s online database.

Slabach also asked parents and students to “be kind to our school nurses.”

“They don’t enjoy putting kids out of school,” she added. The head nurse also said nurses would be happy to answer any questions or provide resources about quarantine or isolation.

Following her presentation ED-6 trustee Lacey Shotwell presented updated CDC guidelines.

Towards the end of December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened the recommended isolation and quarantine time. In the new guidance, people who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate for five days, and if they are asymptomatic after that time, they may exit isolation if they wear a mask around others.

The new guidelines also say that fully vaccinated individuals who are exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 do not have to quarantine, but should wear a mask.

The CDC also says if an individual is not full vaccinated then he or she should quarantine for five days and mask for five days.

Shotwell then made a motion to follow the CDC guidelines of five isolation/quarantine days, which was seconded by ED-7 trustee Keith McDowell.

ED-3 trustee Melissa Hicks then told the board that some school districts are leaving the decision up to the parents and has had success with it.

Meanwhile, vice chair Roy Keith Lloyd told the board, “It does appear that we’ve used the CDC as the North Star” in the past.

Slabach then reminded the board that when they approved quarantine protocols in 2020, they also included a caveat to allow the school system to update protocols as the CDC updated theirs.

She told the board she was informed of the CDC’s changed guidelines towards the end of December, informed the school nurses of the changes and began implementing the new five-day quarantine time.

Lloyd told the board he felt it’s only right to continue to follow the CDC guidelines.

However, Hicks said the board is not completely following the CDC’s guideline because she said the CDC “highly recommends” masks wearing but does not require it.

The CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students, ages 2 years and older, staff, teachers and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.

However, superintendent of schools Dr. Mark Lineburg reminded the board that they were following a state mandate when it comes to mask wearing.

In August, Governor Ralph Northam announced a Public Health Emergency Order requiring universal masking in all indoor settings in Virginia’s K-12 schools. This order reinforces current state law, which requires Virginia schools adhere to mitigation strategies outlined by the CDC.

Potts then told the board that he did not see any need for Shotwell’s motion because the nurses are already instructed to follow CDC guidelines. He also noted that unless the mask mandate is changed, they have to continue following it.

He also told the board, “I think we need to close schools up. I don’t think five days are enough.

He continued saying, “Understand as a board the health of our kids and our staff is what’s important, not what someone else is doing in another state… we’re not being protective enough of our kids. Omicron doesn’t care who you are, delta doesn’t care who you are, and this new strain when it comes, isn’t going to care who you are.”

Lineburg then told the board that there has to be an outbreak in a classroom or school before they’re able to completely close a classroom or school building.

“State law in Virginia requires all public schools to offer in-person instruction to students during the 2021-2022 school year in accordance with recommended CDC mitigation strategies, to the greatest extent practicable,” as stated on the VDOE’s website.

ED-5 trustee Freddie Edmunds also noted that the mask requirement is a mandate, and voiced opposition to “parent choice.”

He noted that there have already been over 400 cases of COVID-19 in school with mask wearing, and said if they removed the masks, then it could escalate to the 900s.

“We need to continue to do our part in trying to control this virus and to keep our schools open,” said Edmunds.

Shotwell then told the board that she was only trying to make the parents and board aware of the new protocols.

Potts again asked, “What is it going to have to be the limit of how many sick people we have in order to close this down?”

Slabach said they would close schools if when doing contract tracing they “cannot keep up with who’s being exposed.

“I don’t think there’s a specific number,” she added.

“It’s easy to be critical,” Lineburg added. “But, if you look from September to now, we’ve been really, really safe.”

He also said they will close classrooms if they don’t have enough employees who aren’t sick to keep them open.

“Our nurses are well trained in contact tracing and we’re not perfect, but we’ve been safe,” he added.

The superintendent also reminded the board that these students currently in isolation caught COVID-19 over Christmas break.

“This has nothing to do with us,” he added.

In the end, the school board passed Shotwell’s motion supporting the five-day isolation guidelines with a seven to one vote with Potts voting against it.

Ashley Conner is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at aconner@gazettevirginian.com

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com