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SPS releases COVID-19 dashboard

Suffolk Public Schools has unveiled its COVID-19 dashboard, showing that it has had 23 cases since school started Sept. 8, though it noted that one case does not equal one person and it can include a single individual at multiple locations.

From Nov. 9 to Nov. 15, the division reported eight positive COVID-19 cases — three at King’s Fork High School, two at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School, and one each at Nansemond Parkway Elementary School, Creekside Elementary School and Food and Nutrition Services. Its dashboard notes that COVID-19 cases have been at 12 of the division’s locations.

Though the dashboard would appear to indicate multiple cases at a school since Sept. 8, it factors in the single person who could have been at multiple division buildings. It also notes that the Virginia Department of Health defines an outbreak as at least two confirmed cases of COVID-19 where people are linked by a common exposure to a sick person, setting, event and time period. The transmission, it said, “must occur within the school facility or at a school-sponsored event among students, faculty, staff or visitors to be classified as a school-associated outbreak.”

There have not been any reported K-12 outbreaks in public or private schools in Suffolk or in the Western Tidewater Health District — which also includes Franklin, Isle of Wight County and Southampton County — according to the Virginia Department of Health.

As of Nov. 13, the statewide dashboard reported outbreaks at nine schools across the state, with at least 25 cases and no deaths, with all the outbreak reporting dates to the state health department between Oct. 20 to Oct. 23.

As part of the local dashboard, which will be updated on its website on Mondays, it will show a weekly update of the seven-day average of cases per 100,000 in the city and the Eastern Region, and the percent positivity in both the region and city — both over the last 14 days.

The division has said these core indicators would be what is used when determining whether to allow for in-person learning. The other core indicators include the ability of schools to implement the consistent and correct use of masks, social distancing to the largest extent possible, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, cleaning and disinfection and contact tracing efforts in collaboration with the local health department.

It divides up its chart into yellow, orange and red based on percent positivity and the rate of cases per 100,000 of population.

“The health metrics are always going to be the things that really push our decisions on if we should stay virtual, go hybrid, or if we have to close,” Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III said at the Nov. 12 School Board meeting.

The table on its dashboard indicates “potential recommendations” on whether to return to school or stay in virtual learning. If either percent positivity or cases per 100,000 people are in the red, the division would continue to recommend that schools stay in virtual learning, even if the other metric is in orange or yellow. If both metrics are either orange or yellow, in-person hybrid learning would be a potential recommendation.

The division had presented a proposal to return students whose parents chose hybrid learning, with pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students returning first and then secondary students returning two weeks later. After a 3-3 vote that kept most students in virtual learning, the board voted again earlier this month, but by a 6-1 vote, to stay in virtual learning.

Gordon said following that vote that the earliest students would return to school would be Jan. 4 for pre-K through fifth-grade students and Jan. 11 for secondary students to allow time to prepare for Standards of Learning testing.

For the positive cases in schools, the division has already been sending letters home to staff or students that may be at risk for exposure. Gordon said the division had not released its dashboard previously because it did not have enough students in school.

There are about 126 special education students in specialized programs attending school in person, but they are not in all of the division’s schools.

Staff members have been working from their respective schools at least twice per week. The division has also been partnering with AlphaBEST Education to provide childcare at all 11 of the division’s elementary schools for children ages 4 to 12 during virtual and hybrid learning models. Initially, the program had 726 spots available — 66 for each school. When full-time, in-person learning resumes, the program will shift to before-and-after care. Currently, AlphaBEST notes there is a wait-list because it has reached its capacity.

The division’s dashboard can be found at https://www.spsk12.net/covid-19_resources/sps_health_dashboard.