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School system’s weekly COVID case count hits fourth consecutive high
Launches regular after-hours disinfectant fogging
Bulloch Schools logo

For the fourth week in a row, the Bulloch County Schools saw a record number of new COVID-19 cases among students and employees, with 71 cases reported by 8:30 p.m. Friday for the week of Jan. 24-30, after 60 cases the week before, Jan. 17-23.

The previous numbers were 48 cases the week of Jan. 10-16 and 43 cases Jan. 3-9. Second-semester case counts have dwarfed those from first semester, when the previous one-week high was 23 cases the week of Aug. 23-29, nearly equaled by 22 cases Dec. 6-12 and 22 causes again Dec. 13-19.

With no announced changes for next week, the schools continue under the same 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. Board of Education members did not discuss the recent surge in cases and in precautionary quarantines when they met for a brief, regular work session on other topics Thursday evening.

But beginning that evening, handheld foggers were to be used after-hours on a regular schedule to spray a disinfectant throughout classrooms and other areas of schools, with the exception of kitchens.

“This additional mitigating factor will continue while our county is experiencing higher than normal levels of Covid outbreaks,” school system Public Relations Director Hayley Greene said in an email. “The school district will work with each school principal in regards to any conflicts to individual school event schedules.”

This does not mean that every school will receive the fogging treatment every day. But the disinfectant fogging, previously used in targeted areas, such as after reported exposures, is now being used throughout buildings on a rotating schedule. Each school will receive the thorough fogging treatment every 14 days, she said Friday.

Meanwhile, teachers continue to use disinfectants in their classrooms between classes, and custodians thoroughly clean buildings daily, Greene said. The foggers cannot be used in kitchens, but school kitchens are cleaned daily with a disinfectant designed specifically for food preparation areas.

Generally, the fogging of classrooms will be done in scheduled buildings between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through the Friday and during the day on Saturday.

 

Over 10% quarantined

As of Friday evening, 1,327 Bulloch County Schools students, teachers, staff members and support personnel were on precautionary seven-, 10-, or 14-day quarantines. That amounts to quarantining 10.5% of the total combined school populations, 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 1,327 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 updates the numbers on the school system’s “COVID-19 Daily Report” webpage with information received from school nurses.

Some people in the community, such as a group of virtual-program parents who emailed letters to local and state officials last weekend, complain that the school system’s COVID-19 precautions are lax. But Bulloch Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson, asked Thursday night about the surging numbers, noted that local school leaders have also faced criticism for the large numbers of people quarantined relative to the number of actual cases.

The quarantines, he observed, are also precautions.

“Part of it is, nobody knows the right answer about this,” Wilson said. “We’ve caught a lot of flak about we’re being too aggressive with our quarantining process. Well, depends on how you look at it, we’re not doing enough or we’re doing too much, right? Again, we’re trying to be safe and the nurses are identifying people, and that’s their jurisdiction and prerogative, along with the administrators, as to who they think we need to quarantine.”

From what he has seen, school nurses “have been very assertive” in applying quarantines, he said.

“That could be why some of the numbers (of quarantines) are high, but it could be what keeps the numbers down later,” Wilson said.

 

January surge

From Jan. 3, three days before second-semester classes began, through Friday, the school system reported 222 cases of the novel coronavirus. That, in one month, is 46.7% of the total 475 COVID cases reported among the students and employees since the school year began Aug. 17.

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.

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.

 

Quarantine rules

Greene had 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 in an email. “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, she noted.

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.

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