Health director not ‘overly alarmed’ about 11 student, staff cases in Chesterfield elementary schools, parents push for more data

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Within two days of elementary schools resuming live classes in Chesterfield, nearly a dozen elementary school students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

According to Chesterfield County Public School’s online data, six elementary staff members and five elementary students tested positive for the virus on Tuesday and Wednesday — classes began on Tuesday.

Three of the student cases were identified on Wednesday from Grange Hall Elementary School.

Considering COVID-19’s incubation period, it’s unlikely the 11 cases stemmed from the schools themselves. However, as more students plan to return to classrooms, some parents worry incomplete data is preventing them from seeing the whole picture.

“Put the information out there,” said Grace Olsen, the parent to a CCPS third grader who is learning virtually. “We’re gonna see the numbers go up in the next few weeks. You’re gonna see a lot more cases just because there’s a lot more people in the buildings.”

Data from the district shows that about half of elementary students are learning from home and the other half are returning to classrooms. The students learning in-person will join roughly 1,000 special K-12 education students who returned at the end of September. Students in the career and technical centers also returned Tuesday.

Right now, the CCPS online database just shows the date that the students and staff test positive for COVID-19 and from which school they entered. 8

News asked CCPS if the cases listed online are for virtual and in-person students and staff or just in person students and staff.

“We post virtual staff, because some virtual staff will teach from the building,” said Shawn Smith, a spokesperson with CCPS. “We do not post virtual students unless they have been in the building for extracurricular activities.”

According to the online database, the district is trying to be open with the community about their cases.

“In the interest of transparency and a continued trusting relationship between school-home, we plan to go above and beyond the VDH and CDC guidance,” CCP’s website says.

However, what the district calls “transparency,” others call “the bare minimum.”

“They’re posting what I feel like is the bare minimum,” Olsen said. “You look at Loudon county, you look at Fairfax county. They’re posting graphs and charts and quarantine data.”

Olsen started her own website and Facebook page called “Chesterfield Project Restart: By the Numbers” where she’s created her own graphs and charts based on data from VDH and CCPS.

Olsen said parents need to know more about the cases to be able to make informed decisions about sending their kids back to school. While federal laws stop districts from identifying patients, Olsene said even just knowing when a COVID-positive person was last in a school building would be helpful. That’s something Henrico County Public Schools does.

The mom knows the importance of data and its ins and outs all too well. She’s a business intelligence analyst dealing with it all day.

“People want to know what’s going on,” Olsen said. “If you’re gonna gain the trust of families who may not have trusted chesterfield county schools in the past to really look out for their kids, the best way to do that is education [and] information.”

On Thursday, Dr. Alexander Samuel, the health district’s director, said the 11 cases is not “overly alarming” when comparing that number to the cases currently in Chesterfield County.

“We expect to continue to see cases among staff and students within the school district, which is secondary to the large number of cases we’re seeing in the community,” he said in a statement.

We will continue to work with CCPS to monitor the cases closely, follow close contact guidance, and monitor for transmission within the schools. We know we will continue to see positive cases within the schools and this will come primarily from teachers and students being exposed outside of the school setting.  So far, among schools that have been open since the autumn, transmission rates within schools has been low.  This is because the strict strategies in place to curb transmission within school settings have largely been successful.”

Dr. Alexander Samuel

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