LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As Jefferson County Public Schools enter their third week of classes, the district's health services manager said "things are going well" despite a number of COVID cases and quarantines.
"Our mantra this year I tell my staff over and over again is to keep COVID out and keep students in, and I think overall it's gone well," Dr. Eva Stone said.
Of about 95,000 students and 15,000 staff, JCPS is reporting 1,491 COVID cases among students and 190 cases among staff. As of Aug. 31, there are 7,166 students and 142 staff in quarantine.
Stone said that while the virus is different than the one they faced when the district returned for its hybrid spring schedule, there are more vaccination and testing clinics available for both students and staff.
Almost 8,500 students and 3,300 staff have signed up for weekly COVID test screening, an opportunity for the district to understand schools' transmission rates and identify asymptomatic cases.
"Testing helps us know where we are," Stone said. "I would equate it to someone with diabetes who checks their blood sugar to know where they are...testing is a little bit like that."
Nurses are also in every school as part of the district's pandemic response. Stone said JCPS' universal masking, social distancing and regular disinfection have also helped immensely.
While districts like Greater Clark County Schools have announced an extended period of NTI to combat positive COVID cases or quarantines, Stone said JCPS cannot move to full or even partial online learning due to current state law.
JCPS spokesperson Renee Murphy said the district only has 10 NTI days. Every additional day would be made up at the end of the year like a snow day.
"Laws have changed and there is not currently a mechanism in place here in Kentucky to have that long, prolonged period of NTI,” Murphy said.
Stone said COVID cases and quarantines the district started with Aug. 11 were a result of students' lives outside of school. Now, though, Stone said they have a better understanding of the virus in school buildings.
"If we just stop and say we're going to go back to remote learning, then we're almost starting over when those kids come back," Stone said. "I think it's important for us to just understand that closing school is not the only answer to stopping the spread of COVID."
Stone said the decision to move students out of the building is one that needs to be made with great care because the disruption to learning "might actually be more harmful than it is helpful."
Dr. Sarah Moyer said research has shown schools can be a safe place for students as long as safety measures are being followed correctly. Moyer said Louisville remains in the "triple red" for severe community spread of COVID, reporting 3,926 cases and 25 deaths from Aug. 22-28.
A majority of Louisville's cases are in the 20-44 age range, but Moyer said cases in those 0-19 are inching closer.
Moyer said there are currently 337 people hospitalized with COVID, 97 of whom are in the ICU and 70 on ventilators. Past trends show about 75% of ICU patients do not make it. If that continues, Moyer said it would double the county's peak deaths from winter.
"You've got two choices," Moyer said. "You can pretend you're still in lockdown still and avoid contact with people or you can get vaccinated."
One Kentucky county has dropped down to orange, and that county had the highest vaccination rates. Nearly 61% of Louisville residents have received at least their first dose of COVID vaccines and 52.6% have received all doses.
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