COVID at high school

PCHS student tested positive for COVID-19 after going to class

Pierce County Schools were only in session one day for the 2020-2021 school term when the first case of COVID-19 (coronavirus) was reported.

School Superintendent Dara Bennett confirmed to The Times that a

positive case of COVID-19 has been recorded at Pierce County High School. Since that time, the Georgia Department of Public Health reports every school but Midway has at least one case. So far, no faculty members have tested positive.

Parents of any students in contact with that student have been notified by the Department of Public Health and advised to quarantine for 14 days.

“Student safety is of utmost importance to us. Pierce County Schools will notify parents in the event their child has been exposed to COVID-19 at school,” Bennett said. “We are following guidelines from the Department of Public Health as to who has been exposed and needs to quarantine.”

The superintendent continues to ask for help from students and their parents.

“We ask for your help by monitoring for symptoms each morning and staying home if you are sick,” she said.

Bennett said the school system especially appreciates the support, patience and grace of the community in helping to keep schools open and safe.

“It will take all of us working together to decrease the spread of COVID-19 so that our children can learn and thrive at school with their teachers and peers,” she said.  

The school system released a list of commonly asked questions from parents and provided answers to those questions regarding COVID-19.

Will the schools be able to stay open if students and teachers start getting COVID-19?

We are optimistic that our mitigating measures to decrease the spread of COVID-19 within the schools will help us stay open five days a week with students. The Pierce County School System will continue to collaborate with the Georgia Department of Health (DPH) on our community spread here in Pierce County, and any decisions regarding a change in school services or closure would be made after consulting with the DPH. If a school has a spike in positive cases, school officials will seek DPH guidance to determine if the number of positive cases indicates a need to close the school temporarily for a few days to deep clean and keep students and staff from being around each other for a short time. These decisions will be made on a school by school basis. It is possible that one school  with an increased number of cases may close and transition to distance learning for a few days while other schools in the system with minimal or no cases remain open.

Will I be notified if my child has been around a teacher or student at school who has tested positive for COVID-19?

Yes. If your child is in a class with another student or adult who tests positive for COVID-19, and your child is determined to be a direct contact, then you will receive a call from the school with quarantine instructions per DPH. If your child has to quarantine at any time during the 2020-2021 school year as a result of COVID-19, your child will not be counted absent as long he/she completes the assigned work. In order to be in compliance with HIPAA privacy rules, the school system will not be able to tell you the name of the person who tested positive for COVID-19.

Will a whole class have to quarantine if a teacher or student tests positive in the class?

Any decision to quarantine a whole class, grade level or school would be made after collaboration with the DPH.  While we are encouraging our students and teachers to social distance and to wear masks when they have to be in close proximity to someone else, it is a much easier task to achieve with older students than with the younger ones. If contact tracing measures make it difficult to determine whether students were indeed socially distanced from the person with COVID-19, then, out of an abundance of caution, the entire class will quarantine for 14 days. Students will not be counted absent during the quarantine period as long as they complete their assignments. In most of the classes with older elementary, middle and high school students, the majority of the students in the class will not have to quarantine ­— only the students who are determined to be direct contacts.

What safety measures have been implemented at the schools to help decrease the spread of COVID-19?

As with many other types of viruses, COVID-19 is contagious and will include community spread — both inside and outside of school. The safety measures that the Pierce County School System have implemented to decrease the spread of germs include: not coming to school if you feel sick; washing hands often; distancing when possible; having plenty of hand sanitizer available; disinfecting common areas/surfaces regularly; bringing refillable water bottles to school instead of using water fountains and encouraging employees/students to wear masks when they have to be in close proximity to others.  

What symptoms should I be looking for so that I can make sure I do not send my child to school sick or with possible symptoms?

Guidance from the CDC and DPH encourage parents and teachers to monitor for the following symptoms: fever, chills, shortness of breath, new cough, loss of taste or smell, body aches, nausea, sore throat, headache, congestion or runny nose. Students/employees should not come to school sick and should wait until symptoms are gone and they are fever free for 24 hours before returning to school.

Parents are asked to monitor their children and not send them to school if they have a temperature of 100.4 or greater.

Health and safety precautions are in place at all schools in the system.

Bennett also pointed out visitor admittance to campus will be limited. Visitors will be limited at every campus and all volunteer programs are on hold. Visitors will also be asked to wear masks and no one with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be admitted.

There will be no field trips and athletic events will follow guidelines set by the Georgia High School Association (GHSA).

More lunches will be added at the middle school and high school and more table space will be expanded at the high school for social distancing. At the elementary grades, classes will be staggered in the cafeteria and classrooms on alternating days.

Assemblies and large gatherings during the school day are on hold until further notice.

Transportation to and from school will feature additional measures with the buses sanitized between routes. Hand sanitizer will be available and wearing of masks will be encouraged.

Assigned seats with students from the same household sitting together will be enforced on the bus.