After a record 60 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases among Bulloch County Schools students and employees last week, Jan. 17-23, the number of new cases this week reached 58 by 5:15 p.m. Thursday.
No changes in school-day operational safeguards had been announced, school system Public Relations Director Hayley Greene said prior to a 6:30 p.m. Board of Education work session. The coronavirus situation was not on the published agenda.
But beginning Thursday evening, handheld foggers were to be used daily after-hours in all of the schools and school system office buildings to spray a disinfectant throughout every room, except kitchens.
“This additional mitigating factor will continue while our county is experiencing higher than normal levels of Covid outbreaks,” Greene said in an email. “The school district will work with each school principal in regards to any conflicts to individual school event schedules.”
Generally, the fogging will be done between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through the Friday and also sometime during the day on Saturday. The schedule will be adjusted for after-school events and programs, such as those involving the Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department and the 21st Century Community Learning Center. School kitchens are cleaned daily with a disinfectant designed specifically for food preparation areas, Greene explained.
As of Thursday evening, 1,298 Bulloch County Schools students, teachers, staff members and support personnel were on precautionary seven-, 10-, or 14-day quarantines. That amounts to 10% of the total combined school populations being quarantined, since the school system reported a recent enrollment of 10,925 students and a regular employee count of 1,615.
Virtual-program students, learning at home, can also show up in the numbers when required to quarantine. Otherwise, the 1,298 individuals quarantined equal more than 12% of the recent on-campus population, with 8,720 students enrolled in face-to-face instruction and 1,534 of the employees counted as on-campus.
Greene noted that a quarantined student is “a healthy child” required by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and Georgia Department of Public Health, or DPH, guidelines to quarantine at home because of “direct exposure” to someone with a confirmed positive case of COVID-19.
“Academic instruction continues for students who are quarantined,” she wrote. “They receive instruction using the district's G-Suite tools like Google Meets, Google Classroom, etc. to keep contact with their Bulloch County Schools teacher and assignments.”
When “feasible and appropriate” quarantined employees may also continue to work or teach while in quarantine, Greene noted.
From Jan. 3, three days before second-semester classes began, through Thursday, the school system reported 209 cases of the coronavirus. That, in just under a month, is 45% of the total 462 COVID cases reported among the students and employees since the school year began Aug. 17.
But with the start of the new semester, more than 2,000 students previously in virtual instruction returned to school face-to-face, increasing the numbers in the buildings. About 2,200 students remain at home in the virtual option.
As of Thursday, the schools continued under the same local operational rules as first semester, with wearing of face masks strongly encouraged but not required, and social distancing encouraged but not fully realized in many school settings.
Greene said she wonders if increased testing for COVID-19 may also factor in the extent of the upsurge of confirmed cases.
At the end of 2020, the Georgia DPH Southeast District offered Bulloch County’s public and private schools BinaxNOW rapid testing for their employees, age 18 and older, who are within the first seven days of the onset of symptoms. Actual testing began Jan. 13, with appointments on Wednesday afternoons.
The public school system’s employees can make appointments through a school nurse.
Under the revised CDC and DPH guidelines adopted by the school system in December, the number of days an exposed but symptom-free person must self-quarantine varies depending on when and whether the exposed individual is tested.
The guidelines allow a quarantine to be limited to seven days if the individual takes a COVID-19 PCR test or antigen test after five full quarantine days and receives a negative result and does not experience any symptoms any of the seven days.
For individuals who have come into close contact with someone with COVID-19 but who choose not to take a PCR or antigen test, the quarantine can be limited to 10 days if the person has no symptoms during any of those 10 days.
But the CDC’s original best-practice recommendation, a 14-day quarantine, remains for other situations.
In particular, some special rules apply to quarantined student athletes. They may return to practice under either the seven-day or 10-day option if they wear a mask appropriately and maintain six feet of distance from others while at practice. But a quarantined student will not be allowed to return to athletic competition until the full 14 days have passed, according to the school system’s online summary.