Health

Greater Clark County Schools officials are reporting at least 17 positive coronavirus cases among students and staff members since classes started two weeks ago.

The positive cases have led to the quarantining of 58 staff members and 210 students. All 17 people who tested positive were in a school building at some point.

Each positive case has resulted in between 10 and 25 people being placed in quarantine. Most of the cases are linked to community spread outside of schools, according to Clark County Health Officer Eric Yazel.

“A vast majority of these cases that we’re finding are cases that would have been positive whether we were in school or not,” he said. “These are not in-school transmission cases. Of all these cases we have, there’s possibly two that were a result of in-school transmission.”

Yazel added that despite the high number of people in quarantine, few of them are displaying symptoms.

“A majority of all those contacts are completely asymptomatic,” he said. “Hardly any of these quarantined people are even sick. It’s just that they had an exposure to somebody who was, so they’re out for their protection and to eliminate the potential for in-school spreads.”

Superintendent Mark Laughner said seven schools currently have people in quarantine. Some students who chose to do full-time virtual learning have also tested positive in addition to the 17 cases in schools, Laughner said.

Students who were still waiting for the outcome of COVID-19 tests came to school anyway during the first week of classes.

“We put out a school message to parents saying if you have a test pending, stay at home until you get the results,” Laughner said. “If you see any kind of symptoms in your child, or if you’re a staff member and you have any kind of symptoms, stay home.”

Laughner says the district faces a shortage of substitute teachers, which could force some schools to shut down temporarily if more staff members are quarantined. Pleasant Ridge Elementary encountered such a scenario before moving to eLearning this past week.

Even before the pandemic, Laughner said it was difficult to find a sufficient number of substitute teachers because of inadequate funding.

“Right now, I’m worried about a few schools staffing-wise, because we’ve had a number of staff quarantined,” Laughner said. “If we have one or two more staff members or a few more staff members that have to be quarantined for some reason, we may have to shut that building down because of that.”

With flu season approaching, both Yazel and Laughner acknowledged the difficulty of containing outbreaks. Yazel is urging everyone to get flu shots this year to limit symptoms that could be confused with COVID-19.

District officials will meet next week to discuss how to move forward.

“The social and emotional health of our staff is going to be the next thing we have to pay close attention to,” Laughner said. “The thing I’m sensing now is that there is stress and anxiety that’s put on staff. I’m afraid of burnout.”

One idea being discussed is altering the calendar to include one week of eLearning for all students in between blocks of three to four weeks of in-person classes. Laughner said that giving staff time to quarantine at frequent intervals could help reduce school closures.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.