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Parish schools release virus case totals

Sunday, September 27, 2020
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Update: Total district enrollment figure added to story for comparison — Sept. 28

More than 60 individuals in the Lincoln Parish School District have contracted COVID-19 since the start of school on Aug. 19, according to figures released by the school system Thursday afternoon.

The district reports 47 confirmed positive cases of the novel coronavirus among the student population, as well as 17 employees. Five of those employees are teachers.

The cases are cumulative since the beginning of the school year and do not necessarily represent the current number of active cases. Total student enrollment at all schools is around 5,600.

The Louisiana Department of Health also published case numbers for K-12 systems across the state broken down by region on Thursday, but Lincoln Parish Schools Assistant Superintendent Lisa Bastion said Friday that the parish’s case numbers are not yet reflected in the LDH report.

“We have been tracking (COVID-19 cases) through our school nurses,” Bastion said. “The LDH has a new reporting system that we have not begun to use yet. We will start using it next week.”

The LDH website lists 76 total cases of the virus in the 12-parish Region 8, but it’s unclear how many school systems are currently reporting their data. The LDH did not reply to a request for information as of Friday afternoon.

According to the parish’s Strong Start plan, which follows LDH and Centers for Disease Control guidelines, anyone in the school system who tests positive for the virus must isolate at home for at least 10 days and cannot return until no symptoms are present and no fever has been present for at least 24 hours.

Bastion said that through communication with the state, and as a result of the parish’s own contact tracing efforts, the district believes the bulk of the virus spread among the school populations is occurring outside of the classroom.

“The health department feels like (the virus) is not spreading in the schools — it’s coming into the schools from outside,” she said.

“In secondary (grades), the close contacts (to positive cases) may not be in the classroom, but it’s in things they’re doing outside of school. We’re finding that kids are socializing outside of school: getting together at each other’s houses, riding to a function together without a mask on. We’ve had some quarantines from those types of things outside of the classroom.”

Schools must use contact tracing to determine who may have been a close contact of a positive case, which is defined as having been within six feet of that person for more than 15 minutes. Any close contacts must quarantine at home for 14 days, during which time they enter the school’s virtual learning program.

Bastion said when the district learns of a positive case, they call the child’s parents and ask about the child’s activity going back two days before the COVID-19 test was taken. Then they call the parents of any children who were determined to be a close contact.

LDH guidelines also indicate that if two or more positive cases of the virus are detected concurrently in one class, the entire class must quarantine. Bastion said that has occurred a few times in Lincoln Parish.

“We’ve seen some instances in elementary where we’ve had to quarantine a class,” Bastion said. “But they automatically go virtual when that happens, so we’re able to reach them. In secondary, they’re not in a room together all day, and they’re still only coming every other day, so that helps with exposure.”

She said they’ve seen “both extremes” from parents as far as willingness to quarantine their children for 14 days, but everyone has been responsive to contact tracing

“We could not ask people to cooperate any more (with contact tracing),” she said. “They’ve been great.”

Secondary grades in Lincoln Parish will revert to an everyday schedule at the end of the first nine-week grading period on Oct. 19.

Bastion said the local COVID-19 case numbers should start to appear in the LDH online report this week.