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School leaders prepare for students and staff return to in-person as Kentucky COVID cases hit all-time high

The district said more than 500 students and staff tested positive on Sunday alone.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Omicron variant is causing record COVID case counts in Jefferson County and around the country.

After the holidays, parents and students flocked to JCPS testing sites before the return to in-person school Tuesday

In a letter to families, district officials said they plan to return, with COVID mitigation policies still in place, but would be "actively monitoring the number of COVID-19 cases in Louisville." 

District Health manager Eva Stone said more than 500 students and staff tested positive on Sunday alone. As of Monday evening, the district reported more than 900 student and staff positive cases.

JCPS expanded hours at five different testing sites Monday to allow more students and staff to be tested. 

Monday, teachers like Emilie McKiernan Blanton, who is also a JCTA board member, prepared for the return to the classroom. 

"Every time we return from break its always stressful its always anxious, this year is probably a little more extreme," she said. 

She said teachers know they'll have to give students gentle reminders about things like masking and seating arrangements, to try and keep people safe. 

RELATED: 'Omicron has hit us harder' | Gov. Andy Beshear says virus cases have doubled as positivity rate surges to nearly 21%

"We're going to go over 'this is how the cafeteria runs, this is how this runs,' and COVID strategies are just part of that," she said. “We tell them 'your nose is cold, try gentle corrections.'" 

District data show more than 6,000 total positive cases among students and staff for the school year. 

Health manager Dr. Eva Stone says regular testing helped keep the overall total relatively low. 

"We're two years into this and we have a new normal," she said. "Testing and vaccines and these types of things are all part of that new normal."

At Ballard High School Monday, lines of cars wrapped around the building for testing. 

"I actually feel a little less uncomfortable about it because there are so many people out, we aren't the only ones in this boat," parent Lindsay Jones said. 

“If any other family were in my position and didn’t get their kid tested and sent them to school, I would be upset," she said.

For teachers, keeping kids in class hinges on positives among their own ranks.

"It's honestly a building by building basis," McKiernan Blanton said. "My building has almost 100 staff members but an elementary school down the street might have 20."  

McKiernan Blanton said she knows it's easy for parents to worry about rumors about district closings and changes. She reminds them any official changes to school will come directly from JCPS. 

JCPS officials wrote in a letter to parents Sunday "While our plan is to resume in-person instruction as scheduled on Tuesday, January 4, we are continually reviewing data to understand COVID’s impact on our school community. We are committed to keeping you informed and providing updates to our families." 

The district has the option to go remote for 10 days, under state law. 

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