On July 19, Gov. Beshear said there were at least 23,161 coronavirus cases in Kentucky, 979 of which were newly reported Sunday. This is the highest single day number recorded in Kentucky since the beginnings of this pandemic. Thirty cases were from children five-years-old or younger. The Governor noted that the daily number of positive cases as well as the rolling seven-day average shows Kentucky is seeing its positivity rate on COVID-19 tests jumping from around 2% in mid-March to about 4% in recent weeks. In an effort to blunt the growth in cases, Gov. Beshear announced a new travel advisory and a pullback on the guidance for mass gatherings. The new travel advisory recommends a 14-day self-quarantine for travelers who went to any of eight states – Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, South Carolina and Texas – that are reporting a positive coronavirus testing rate equal to or greater than 15%. The advisory also includes Mississippi, which is quickly approaching a positive testing rate of 15%, and the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico.
Gov. Beshear also announced that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has issued a new order that pulls back on guidance covering social, non-commercial mass gatherings. On June 29, the original guidance was eased to allow for gatherings of 50 or fewer people. Today’s order returns the guidance to allow only for such gatherings of 10 or fewer people. The guidance, which does not apply to weddings, restaurants, retail or other public venues, went into effect Monday at 5 p.m.
This increase in cases is disturbing news to many parents, guardians, teachers and school employees given that school is scheduled to reopen in just a few weeks at the beginning of August. Superintendent Mike Smith and the Jackson County Board of Education has decided to provide two options. Option 1 involves typical in-person classroom attendance with a number of precautions put in place involving temperature checks, social distancing, mask wearing and an intense cleaning regimen. Option 2 involves virtual attendance online via a Google classroom. The child is still attending the class they are simply attending it from home via video.
While this certainly gives parents the option to keep their children home if it is feasible it does not eliminate all need for concerns. Many in the community are still struggling with how to assess risk and make the wisest decision. For example, in some instances both parents work full-time jobs and have no one to be at home with their child through the school day. While they are hesitant to send their kid to in-person classes they feel like they have no other choice. This also does not address the concerns of teachers, bus drivers, and other staff that will be required to interact with a large number of individuals every single day. There are many school employees, including teachers that fall into vulnerable categories such as age or underlying health concerns. In addition, many of these employees are also caregivers for aging parents or vulnerable children at home that may be at higher risks to the virus.
Educators around the country are growing uneasy about returning to school. For example, educators in Florida, with the backing of the state's largest teachers union, have sued Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other state officials for trying to require schools to reopen in the middle of the most recent COVID-19 surge.
The Jackson County Sun reached out to Jackson County teachers and spoke with their representative, Bridgette McCowan. Mrs. McCowan reported, “Given the current situation, I am not sure that there is a good way to reopen schools across Kentucky. However, kids need and deserve a quality education. Students and teachers need and want to be back in the school setting but it will be very difficult with the social distancing and mask requirements. This virus has wreaked havoc on our nation and continues to do so. It has proven to be treacherous to the elderly and those with compromised immune systems but it hasn’t stopped there. We are now hearing of lots of children that are becoming sick as well. No one is immune to this virus and it should be taken very serious. I know teachers and parents are very concerned with exposure to others and the possibility of bringing it back home to a parent, grandparent, or an already sick family member. To be honest, I don’t know the best scenario for reopening schools is Jackson County and I am not sure that anyone else does either. We have been dealt a bad hand and our only option is to make the best decisions that we can for reopening and pray that God will shield each and every one of our students and staff, as well as their family members at home. Our superintendent has the final say on our reopening.”
Parents were encouraged to inform the school district which option they preferred by the beginning of this week. We will obtain these results and report them as soon as available.