JONESBORO — Some local school districts have seen a rise in COVID-19 cases since returning from the holiday break, while one has seen a decrease in cases.
While Jonesboro School District had the most cases in Craighead County, according to Thursday’s Arkansas Department of Health COVID-19 report, Assistant Superintendent William Cheatham said those numbers are pretty normal for the school. JPS had 24 active cases.
“We have remained steady in numbers and have not really seen any spikes in cases,” Cheatham said. “We have been really fortunate.”
Cheatham said the last time the district saw a spike in cases was in mid-September when Douglas MacArthur Jr. had to close and pivot to all virtual learning.
Cheatham said district administrators are working with area partners to get teachers vaccinated.
“We had 450 teachers who wanted the vaccine based on the survey,” he said, noting a little over 50 percent of staff members have had their first shot.
Lori Ellis, Nettleton Public Schools COVID-19 point of contact, who spent Friday afternoon quarantining an entire busload of students, said the Nettleton district has seen a rise in cases.
“We expected that,” she said.
Friday wasn’t the first time Ellis has had to contact trace cases on school buses.
“When a child tests positive, and they rode a bus 48 hours before the test or symptom start date, we have to get the seating chart and quarantine anyone on that bus who was within 6 feet of that person for more than 15 minutes,” she said.
Friday’s tracing of the one positive case on a district school bus put over 30 students in quarantine.
Ellis said the student, who had not been at the district in over a week, received a confirmed positive test result Friday.
On Friday afternoon, Ellis said the total number cases related to COVID-19 reflected 7 positive students, 100 students quarantined, three positive teachers, and five teachers in quarantine.
Ellis said those numbers did not include the 30 students ordered to quarantine due to exposure on the bus.
Other area school districts are seeing an increase in cases also.
Sara Osment, Valley View district curriculum specialist, said this week the school has been impacted more than last week.
“We thought we would see an increase in cases last week,” she said. “This week we saw the numbers climb for faculty and staff.”
The COVID-19 numbers for Valley View as of Friday reflected eight students tested positive, 163 were in quarantine, four staff tested positive, and 19 staff were in quarantine.
Osment said the district really doesn’t know what caused the increasing numbers this week.
“Each case was very different,” she said. “Some had been home taking care of their children who had been exposed, and some had children who were symptomatic.”
Osment said the school is battling the cases by vaccinating teachers but the process is slow.
“We had 110 teachers vaccinated last week,” she said, noting St. Bernards Auditorium hosted a clinic. “Yesterday, Southern Pharmacy was on site to vaccinate 52 more.”
St. Bernards provided the district a link to sign up for the waiting list, which Osment emailed to teachers.
“They will organize another event at St. Bernards Auditorium,” she said, noting St. Bernards expects another shipment later this week.
Brookland School district has also seen a increase in cases, but less than when school first started back, said John Proffitt, who does the COVID-19 contact tracing for the junior high and high school.
“Currently we definitely had a spike from residual COVID-19 cases after the break,” he said, noting very few virus cases were ones that were a direct result of contact with someone at the school.
All Brookland teachers who opted to take the vaccine have received their first round from The Pharmacy at Brookland, he said.
“We are halfway done with the vaccine,” Proffitt said, noting the final dose will be taken in a month.
Westside came in with the least number of cases this week, according to the Arkansas Department of Health and district superintendent Scott Gauntt.
“Right now we have four staff who have tested positive, one student who tested positive, and 15 students quarantined, and 5 staff,” he said.
Gauntt said the district is also in the process of vaccinating teachers who have volunteered to take it.
Holli Crowe, Westside COVID-19 point of contact, said the district has not seen an increase in cases.
“We have seen an overall decrease in cases,” she said, attributing measures like social distancing and frequent hand-washing as part of the reasons cases have not increased.
“In the classrooms with younger students we have put up those plastic dividers between desks and that seems to have helped,” she said.