Two schools in Winchester and Shenandoah County are switching to all-virtual learning for at least a week because of COVID-19 staff absences.
Shenandoah County Public Schools announced on Friday that two staff members at Central High School in Woodstock have tested positive for COVID-19 and several other staff members were directed by the Health Department to quarantine, according to a school division news release.
There is no evidence that the cases of COVID-19 were transmitted through contact in the schools, Superintendent Mark Johnston said on Friday. The cases appear to have come from events held outside of the schools in the community.
Shenandoah County Public Schools transitioned from all-virtual learning to the hybrid model earlier this week. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade attend school four days a week while those in grades six through 12 attend one day a week depending on the first letter of their last name.
"During this first week of hybrid learning, we have confirmed that our health mitigation strategies within the schools are effective," Johnston states in the release. "However, with the large number of Central High School staff absent due to COVID-19, we are unable to continue to provide in-person instruction."
According to the school division's website, there are seven total active cases in Shenandoah County Schools. There is one active case involving a student at Sandy Hook Elementary School, one student at Strasburg High School, a student at W.W. Robinson Elementary School and one at Triplett Tech. There is also one active case at Stonewall Jackson High School involving a staff member.
"The health, safety and well-being of our school community remains our top priority," Johnston states in the release. "We are following sound protocols aligned with expert health guidance to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect the health of our students and staff."
The news release states that the school division plans to transition Central High School students back to the hybrid model on Oct. 26, depending on staff availability.
News of the school closure comes as the Lord Fairfax Health District added another 39 cases of COVID-19 on Friday.
The area experienced an uptick in cases in recent weeks, and daily cases over the last eight days have ranged from 17 (on Wednesday) to 43 (on Thursday.)
Since Oct. 9, the district has recorded 261 new cases, an average of 32.6 each day.
On Thursday, school officials in Winchester announced plans to close Frederick Douglass Elementary School starting Friday after two staff members tested positive for coronavirus, and eight additional staff members went into quarantine, The Winchester Star reported. Students will return on Oct 26.
"Due to operational impact, safety and an overabundance of caution we will be closing Frederick Douglass Elementary beginning Friday," Winchester Public Schools Superintendent Jason Van Heukelum states in a letter sent to parents Thursday evening.
There are two reasons that school divisions might close schools as a result of COVID-19, Lord Fairfax Health Director Dr. Colin Greene said on Friday. At this stage in the pandemic, reduction in staff because of exposure and quarantine is the more common of the two.
The other reason would be if enough cases develop within a school for the administration to decide it would be safer for everyone if they close. That is not the case at the moment with Central or Frederick Douglass, he said.
In the coming weeks, he said, "We’ll have more cases, but it’s anybody’s guess as to how schools will be affected.”
In an email to the Northern Virginia Daily on Friday, Johnston reiterated that all indications are that their mitigation strategies are effective.
“[I]t is so important that the strategies we are using to keep our students and staff safe and prevent spread are the same strategies we all need to be using in the community so that we can keep schools open."
Around Virginia, the Health Department added 1,183 cases for a total of 164,124 since the pandemic started. Of these, 9,998 cases were classified probably caused by COVID-19.
The commonwealth also added 76 hospitalizations and 20 new deaths. Since mid-March, Virginia has recorded 11,780 coronavirus-related hospitalizations (105 probable) and 3,408 deaths (239 probable.)
The local health district added two hospitalizations on Friday — one in Shenandoah County and one in Winchester. No new deaths were reported on Friday.
Frederick County has had 1,068 cases (up 17 cases), 74 hospitalizations and 13 deaths.
Shenandoah County has had 902 cases (up nine), 95 hospitalizations (up one) and 59 deaths.
Winchester has had 549 cases (up seven), 40 hospitalizations (up one) and four deaths.
Warren County has had 514 cases, 35 hospitalizations and 14 deaths.
Page County has had 449 cases (up seven), 47 hospitalizations and 30 deaths.
Clarke County has had 113 cases (down one), 12 hospitalizations and one death.
Harrisonburg has had 2,904 cases (up 22), 97 hospitalizations (up one) and 35 deaths.
Rockingham County has had 1,672 cases (up 12), 124 hospitalizations (up one) and 22 deaths.
Contact Josette Keelor at email@example.com
Reporter Tommy Keeler, firstname.lastname@example.org, contributed to this story.