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Health Department: return to in-person learning will never be “zero risk”

Local News

CENTRAL VIRGINIA (WRIC) — As schools across the Richmond-Metro area grapple with COVID-19, districts are still trying to figure out how to move forward with learning as the second nine weeks of the school year approach. For most schools in the area, school began Sept. 8, so the second quarter will begin next month.

As the options of in-person learning, virtual or a hybrid of both remain on the table, 8News has been working to get the latest numbers from each district.

Nearly 100 cases of coronavirus have been reported in local districts since schools reopened in September.

Local school systems have been informing families of coronavirus cases on their websites or through emails. However, none of the school districts in our area have a daily public dashboard detailing confirmed cases, active cases or deaths.

Here’s the latest data for local districts since the first day of school:

Henrico County: 17 cases, including 1 student from Henrico High

Hanover County: 25 cases

Richmond: 27 cases, 1 death

Chesterfield: 23 cases

Petersburg: 4 cases

Hopewell: 2 cases

RichmondPetersburg and Hanover send out newsletters and alerts when an individual in their school district tests positive.

A Hanover County spokesperson says there has been a lot of misinformation spread online regarding COVID-19 cases. Chris Whitley confirms that five new cases popped up last week.

·         10/4: One individual at Pearson’s Corner ES tested positive. 

·         10/8: One individual at Hanover HS tested positive and one individual at Elmont ES tested positive.

·         10/10: One individual at Battlefield Park ES and one individual at HCPS MS (former Stonewall Jackson MS) tested positive.

Whitley says the districts total number of cases since the beginning of the school year is 25. Hanover Public Schools was one of the first districts in our area to send kids back to the classroom.

Dr. Danny Avula, Director of the Richmond Henrico Health Department, is weighing in.

“We are not going to be able to create a zero risk scenario,” said Avula. “I have huge concerns about prolonged virtual education. We should be doing everything we can to return our children to school, but we have to do it safely.”

Safe return plans are crucial in avoiding tragedy, like the RPS community experienced just last week. A transportation employee died after contracting the virus. The school district has confirmed 27 positive cases since Sept. 8.

Petersburg City Schools are now up to four cases of COVID-19. Families and staff were notified of he fourth case on Monday. The district posted online:

“Dear PCPS Community-A staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. The staff member was only at Petersburg High School and the Central Office on the day of contact, October 6th. We are working with the Petersburg Health Department and Crater Health District to inform the necessary individuals and to continue our mitigation efforts. Letters and/or phone calls are going out today to the appropriate staff members. Currently, Petersburg City Public Schools does not offer in-person instruction for students and is operating under the Petersburg Virtual Academy.”

Chesterfield and Henrico school districts have set up graphs on their COVID-19 information pages to share updates. Both of them list positive cases involving their employees and their respective schools.

Chesterfield County Public Schools have phased students back into the classroom since the end of September with pre-K through third grade returning on Monday. The districts online portal tracks 22 cases since reopening.

Dr.Avula recommends that each school district study community demographics and spread before making a final decision. He says to increase in-person learning opportunities schools must be provided with funding for PPE, have quality ventilation systems and balance ‘teacher to student’ ratio.

“As schools do start to go back to in-person, we should understand that yes we are going to see cases and if we see those limited to clusters of two or three, that’s great,” said Dr. Avula. “That’s a success.”

In Henrico County, online records show 16 positive cases since the beginning of the school year. A majority are employees, however on Sunday the district was notified of its first case involving a student. A younger child enrolled in the YMCA’s childcare center on Henrico High School’s campus contracted the virus.

Posted below is the letter notifying staff and families:

Dear Henrico High School staff/families,
As you know, Henrico County Public Schools and Henrico High School are doing everything reasonably possible to keep you informed about health concerns that are connected to our school. With that in mind, I have an important message to share with you.
The YMCA of Greater Richmond learned today October 11, 2020 that a student in their program at Henrico HS tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, October 9, 2020. The student was last in the building on October 9, 2020. Upon learning of this, the YMCA staff immediately contacted HCPS and the Henrico Health Department, and they are following the HCPS health plan. The YMCA program operates in one building on campus and is away from instructional activity related to Henrico High School staff.
Our staff continues to clean and disinfect workspaces according to best practices for health-risk mitigation. Our offices will remain open for appointments and other school-related business. However, if you have any concerns about conducting school business on-campus, please call us and we will be happy to reschedule or make virtual arrangements to the greatest extent possible. You can contact us at 804-228-2700. While the HCPS health plan (developed in partnership with state and local health experts) calls for notifications to be made specifically to individuals identified through contact tracing, we will continue to keep our school community informed of positive cases.
If you have additional questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Respectfully,
Karin Castillo-Rose, Principal
Henrico High School

Dr.Avula says we know more about the virus than we did three months ago. He says kids are less likely to contract and transmit COVID-19, so there are instances where kids 10 and under can return to the classroom safely.

8News will continue tracking cases in local school districts. Stay with us for updates.

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