A purported fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the US, and local school officials are mulling potential action.
Both USD 413 and Neosho County Community College had previously relaxed their respective pandemic protocols, and neither currently require face coverings while on either premises.
“The first thing is to mitigate or minimize any disruptions related to COVID,” said USD 413 Superintendent Kellen Adams. “We’re making sure we still ensure students and staff safety. With everything going on with the resurgence of the virus, we can hopefully minimize it with the lessons we learned last year.”
While Adams said that action related to a change in COVID-19 protocols is not currently one of the agenda items for August’s regular monthly meeting, he did say that he meets frequently with his administrative team on the topic. Adams said that the administrative team is aiming to have their COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming school year in place and available for public consumption by Aug. 2.
“Our administrative team has been reviewing and analyzing what precautions that we want to start the year with,” he said, as the first day of class on Aug. 12 is rapidly approaching. “Next wweek, when all the principals are back on contract, we need to make some decisions, at least with what we can say with certainty right now.”
Adams said that there are currently “very few” COVID-19 precautions in place.
“We’re well aware that we need to look at what we need to have in place as we start the year,” he said. “But we haven’t made those decisions yet.”
By mid-May, two-thirds of all teachers employed by USD 413 had received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The number was markedly lower for other staff who had received both doses, with that figure checking in at 41.4 percent.
With assistance from the county health department and Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center, the district previously organized three separate clinics for its employees to receive the vaccine, with the first held in February at Royster Middle School. Adams said the district currently has no plans in place for any additional clinics prior to the start of the school year.
“We have no plans that I’m aware of,” he said of any potential vaccination clinics. “But we are certainly willing to look at it and coordinate with folks like the hospital.”
Adams said the district office has begun to receive calls from community members related to potential protocols.
“We’re being asked about it almost daily now,” he said. “What our plans are — are we wearing masks, are we not wearing masks? Are we distancing, are we not distancing?”
Adams said that his personal view on the matter is to “follow science.”
“To that end, that’s where our team always tries to make decisions — is, what are the recommendations from the health experts,” he said. “And, taking that into account, as well as obviously still being able to conduct school in a safe and effective manner.”
New cases of the highly contagious Delta variant, meanwhile, have skyrocketed in the US, with new infections tripling over the past two weeks. In addition, Neosho County is in the geographic vicinity of the No. 1 COVID-19 hot spot in America, Southwest Missouri, in which recent hospitalizations related to the deadly virus have now surpassed their winter peak.
As of Wednesday, Neosho County has trended slightly downward on the COVID-19 front, with 40 active cases, down five from Neosho County Health Department’s previous report. In related news, Chanute’ Sonic Drive-in has been temporarily shuttered due to employees testing positive for the virus, according to a message left on the local Sonic’s Facebook page.
While NCCC also relaxed its COVID-19-related protocols at the conclusion of the spring semester, some of its restrictions remained in place.
“If you’re exposed and unvaccinated, you must be in self-isolation for 10 days,” said NCCC President Dr. Brian Inbody. “As we speak, we’re still going with masks are recommended for those who are unvaccinated, but not required.”
Previously, face coverings had been required on-campus for the entirety of the 2020-21 NCCC academic year.
“We’ll be in consultation with the county (health department) and others,” Inbody said, referring to any guidance the school may follow when it comes to implementing future COVID-19 protocols.
Inbody also meets with and is briefed weekly by the school’s critical response team.
“So far, we haven’t received any change in guidance,” he said. “But they may be different as we get closer to the start of the school year.”