Education Health

At least four students and staff at four different Greater Clark County Schools (GCCS) have tested positive for coronavirus in the first week of the southern Indiana school system’s in-person reopening, according to the Clark County Health Department.

One case in a staff member has forced an entire kindergarten class to quarantine at Pleasant Ridge Elementary, according to Clark County Health Officer Eric Yazel.

Yazel said the department has confirmed a case each at Pleasant Ridge Elementary, Charlestown Middle School, Charlestown High School and New Washington Middle and High School.

GCCS spokesperson Renee Markoski would not provide WFPL News with information on the number of students and staff who have tested positive or been asked to quarantine. GCCS superintendent Mark Laughner did not respond to an interview request by our deadline.

So far, Yazel said he believes transmission has been happening outside of school.

“As far as we know, at this time, there hasn’t been any in-school transmission,” Yazel told WFPL News. “And that’s what we’re trying to avoid. That’s why we do these big quarantines.”

According to the state’s website, Clark County has a 7.5% positivity rate. That means 7.5% of people tested for COVID-19 are found to have the virus. Yazel said there’s a lag in reporting, and he thinks the positivity rate is more like 8.8%. That’s well above the World Health Organization’s recommended threshold of 5% for reopening.

But Yazel said despite the community spread, he thinks it’s important to get kids in school, noting that school is a safe place for many children who may face abuse, neglect or food insecurity at home.

“I think we’re doing the best we can to kind of split the difference,” he said. “If you go too aggressive then you put people at risk. But I think if you go too conservative, sometimes the secondary issues that are a fallout of that, end up actually outweighing the problem itself.”

Yazel said officials monitor health data closely and enact “broad-based quarantines” when they see a positive case. He said he’s watching the data by individual ZIP code and school district, but didn’t have a “hard number” of cases that would prompt the health department to recommend moving to remote learning.

“If we see a pretty steady uptick, and start to get to some of the higher-risk state levels of positivity, then obviously that would be an indication to slow down what we’re doing and go virtual,” Yazel said.

Florida, for example has a positivity rate of 17.8%.

Schools are doing a good job of assisting the health department in contact tracing, Yazel said, by providing assigned seating arrangements that help determine which students and staff should quarantine. He also said he saw 100% compliance on mask-wearing on a visit to Charlestown High School.

Yazel called the possibility of a staff member or student contracting COVID-19 in school and dying as a result a “nightmare scenario.” He also works as an emergency room doctor at Clark Memorial Hospital; in his role there, he has treated many COVID-19 patients and some have died.

“That’s an absolute nightmare to consider that, but it is something we’ve had to consider when we make our decision,” he said. “In order to do some of the things that are for the best of the community in general, we have to accept some degree of risk.”

In addition to cases in GCCS schools, Yazel said his department has also confirmed a case  at Rock Creek Christian Academy.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.