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County Health Department urges delay of classes

The Examiner staff

The Jackson County Health Department recommends that schools in Eastern Jackson County not open until Sept. 8 and then only with virtual classes. When in-person classes are held, students and teachers should be screened for a wide range of COVID-19 symptoms each day, the department says.

“Eastern Jackson County is currently in the Red Zone, indicating significant community spread” of COVID-19, the department tweeted late last week. It also released guidelines with what are called “gating criteria,” that is, the level of disease containment at which some or all school activities are considered safe.

One measure is the percentage of persons testing positive for COVID-19 over a two-week span. Less than 5 percent indicates in-person classes are safe. The yellow zone is 5 to 10 percent, meaning the hybrid model is OK, with some days in class and some days learning online. Several local districts are planning to use a hybrid model.

The red zone is 10 percent or higher, meaning school buildings should be closed and extracurricular activities such as sports canceled. As of Sunday, the county posted a 14-day average positivity rate of 15.19 percent for Eastern Jackson County. That is down slightly from earlier in the month.

“The Jackson County Health Department strongly recommends schools delay the start of classes until Sept. 8 and resume with remote learning,” the department said. “These recommendations are based on three criteria: new cases per 100,000 people, percentage of persons testing positive, and trend in incidence rate.”

Most Eastern Jackson County schools announced weeks ago that they are pushing the start of classes back to Sept. 8. The Independence School District, with the hybrid model in place, started school Monday.

Also the Suburban Conference, which includes Eastern Jackson County public high schools and 27 in all across five counties, has games – football, softball, girls golf, girls tennis, boys soccer, volleyball, boys swimming and diving and boys and girls cross country – set to start Friday. Of the conference members, 21 voted yes for playing fall sports and six were undecided in an email vote on Friday.

The Health Department says games with rules such as social distancing in the stands and other measures can begin if the numbers fall into the yellow zone.

The county Health Department says it will release the zone status “regularly.”

The department says all schools with in-person learning “must meet the minimum requirements” on social distancing, cleaning, hygiene, the use of personal protective equipment, and screening for symptoms. One of those required steps is keeping student desks six feet apart. That six-foot rule also applies to cafeterias, activities in the gym and theater seating.

“Students and staff that are closer than 6 feet for more than 15 cumulative minutes are at risk of being exposed to COVID-19,” says the Health Department’s document, called “Eastern Jackson County School Reopening Plan.”

The document also says, “Students should be kept in stable cohorts throughout the school day whenever possible” and that schoolwide events such as assemblies “should not be held.” It says staff should screen themselves daily for a range of COVID-19 symptoms and “if possible … answer a questionnaire regarding COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival to school daily.”

It says parents and guardians should screen students daily, and also that “students should be visually screened by a staff member or teacher” and monitored by staff throughout the day.

The symptoms parents and guardians are to look for are fever, cough, shortness of breath, a sore throat, headache, chills, aches, fatigue, loss of smell or taste, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea within the last 48 hours. Teachers are asked to screen themselves for the same things.

A student with a temperature of 100.4 or higher should be isolated at school and then picked up – preferably within half an hour – by a parent or guardian, the document says.

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