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Drop in school COVID cases mirrors parish numbers

Thursday, March 25, 2021

As new positive cases of COVID-19 have dipped significantly in Lincoln Parish over the past two months, the Lincoln Parish School District reported Wednesday that it has seen a similar trend among its teacher and student populations.

Assistant Superintendent Lisa Bastion said the district’s last quarantined employee returned to work on March 12, and no employee at any parish school has needed to miss work due to COVID exposure since then.

That’s easily the longest time the district has gone without any employees in quarantine since the pandemic began, Bastion said. For comparison, on Dec. 15, the school system had 52 teachers and other employees in quarantine or isolation simultaneously, which was a routine number at the time.

“We’re definitely seeing a difference this month,” Bastion said.

That downward trend roughly parallels the overall rate of positive cases reported in the parish as a whole.

According to the daily data provided by the Louisiana Department of Health, Lincoln Parish averaged about 14.3 new positive cases per day in December. By February, that average was down to 4.1.

The February numbers may have been partially affected by the week of severe winter weather that gripped most of the state, during which LDH did not report COVID-19 data.

But the local case rate kept falling since then. As of Wednesday, Lincoln Parish averaged just 1.1 confirmed positive case per day in March.

Students, too, have greatly improved in terms of positive cases and quarantines due to possible exposure.

On Dec. 15, 224 students across the district were at home either with a positive case of COVID-19 or quarantined as a close contact. On March 2, that number was 12, and on Wednesday it was four.

Only one student has tested positive for the virus since March 2, Bastion said.

The local plunge in cases seems to align with the timetable of the COVID-19 vaccine becoming available to the public. Eligibility started in January, but local providers who actually had doses to give were few and far between.

But as the eligibility groups began expanding in February, and the number of providers and quantity of vaccines increased, daily case counts started dropping around the same time.

Less than two weeks after immunization eligibility expanded to include on-site employees at schools, all staff at parish schools who wanted a vaccine had received at least their first dose by the first week of March.

That was about 54% of all district employees. Bastion said since then some more have signed up and received a dose through continued communication between the district and Northern Louisiana Medical Center, bringing the total closer to 60%.

“When (NLMC) finished with those who had signed up, they would come back and tell us they had extras,” she said. “They did that about three different times, and we were able to communicate and let people know.”

By April 1, every school employee who wanted a vaccine will have received the second dose. Bastion said most had no adverse reactions to the vaccine, and those who did recovered from mild effects within 24 hours.

She described the overall effect of COVID-19 among students and employees as “very slow” for the past three weeks — a descriptor that perhaps fits the situation for the first time in the past year.