COVID-19 Cases at All-Time High

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Carine Heller

Photo by Carine Heller on Oct. 22.

Matthew Bird, Staff Reporter

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On Jan. 5, Dr. Keith Marty, Superintendent of Parkway Schools released a statement detailing the situation in schools.

He revealed that 1/5 of teachers were absent on Jan. 5 and student absences were just less than that.  The staff’s absences had left a half of those classes without a substitute teachers. It has been common for over 40 students to be supervised by a single teacher. 

Due to the devastating staff shortage students are facing another phase of virtual learning. 

“​​…it is possible a school building may need to close and shift to temporary distance learning for a short time until the situation improves at that school…” said Marty.  

Across the St. Louis region, schools are going back to virtual learning: East St. Louis, Edwardsville, Belleville Township High School, Brooklyn, and some private schools all began to return to a distance model for some students.  Across the river, multiple Illinois schools have returned from winter break to a virtual model due to more restrictions from the state.

“To ensure students can continue learning in the event of a shift, students in grades K-2 will begin bringing Chromebooks home in the coming days,” said Marty, showing the real possibility of a pandemic-related shift from the current full-time in-person model. 

You can read the full letter and other updates at parkwayschools.net’s home page under the “News” header. 

COVID-19 cases during the week of Jan. 2, account for over half of all cases in the Parkway School district.  The region is experiencing the effects of the surge, as well.  The latest data shows that the transmission rate is 1.75, meaning that a group of 10 people will likely infect another 18 people.  To put that into perspective, last year during the winter spike the transmission rate was only 1.25, meaning that 3 times as many people have been infected now.

Studies have shown that the Omicron variant, while more contagious, tends to cause less hospitalizations and serious cases; that is shown in our region as hospitalizations rates have remained steady despite the increased infection rate.  Read more about the Omnicron variant on page 6.

Marty sent a letter to staff on Jan. 7, later released on parkwayschools.net, regarding changes to staff quarintine requirments.  The updated requirements state that staff must isolate for five days, in accordance with new CDC guidelines.  However, the letter emphasized that the change does not affect students. Those requirements would be reconsidered before Jan. 19. 

On Jan. 7, the time of writing this, Central had around 50 confirmed cases, which is five times as high as the number of reported cases from the end of winter break just two days prior.  

These new COVID-19 cases are putting the plan, enacted by the Parkway School District Board of Education, to begin removing restrictions in jeopardy.

The plan stated that masks would be required through the end of the fall semester, which ended on Jan. 17, and will be recommended through this semester.  According to an email sent to parents on Dec 13, the delay allowed time for “families and staff time to complete vaccination and boosters.”  

The other big change to come out of this was the removal of any quarantine requirement for unvaccinated individuals.  “Students and staff [can] no longer be quarantined solely as a result of a close contact with a positive case of COVID-19 at school, effective December 23.”

Students and staff would still be required to stay home if they contract COVID-19 under Missouri Law.  In order to return to school students are still required to stay home until they have no symptoms and test negative for COVID-19 or can return10 days after the onset of symptoms and still have to show proof.

If students become symptomatic at school, they will still be sent home and won’t be able to return until they produce a negative COVID-19 test, a physician’s diagnosis other than COVID-19, or ten days has passed.

Additionally, parents will still be notified if their students were exposed to COVID-19.

However, the plan did not change masking requirements for buses. Due to a U.S. Department of Transportation order, masks continue to be required on any form of public transportation, which includes school buses.

The plan also allowed for an exception to the rule. They stated that if there is an outbreak of COVID-19, which is defined as 2% of the students and staff contracting the virus, masks will be required for two weeks.

The school will still only provide an ensured three feet of social distance between students; however, no word yet of if those dividers will be reinstalled into classrooms .

The plan was approved with a unanimous 7-0 vote enacting the plan; however, the plan will be re-evaluated on Jan. 13.

The vote comes after Missouri Attorney General, Eric Schmitt, sent an open letter to school districts across the state.  That letter stated that any mask mandate, quarantine requirements, and other COVID-19 safety protocols were illegal.  

Districts across the St. Louis region are following suit.  Francis Howell, Rockwood, Lindbergh and more districts are planning to remove the mandate on Jan 18th as well.

The situation is still very fluid.  At the time you are reading this we may very well already be in a virtual setting.  Stay safe and in the words of our colleagues at PCH-TV, “It’s time to Pony Up, Colts!”