Note: This story was last updated at 10 a.m. Oct. 29.
Ten COVID-19 cases have been reported among students in Oak Ridge Schools since Friday. That’s the highest number of cases reported in any seven-day period so far this school year.
The 10 new student cases were reported between Friday and Wednesday. Six of the cases were reported among students at Oak Ridge High School. It’s not clear yet if the surge is an anomaly or part of a trend.
There are currently 46 students and five staff members who are not allowed to attend school because they have been in close contact with someone at school who has been confirmed to have COVID-19, Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers said in response to questions Wednesday.
The surge in new cases has occurred as middle schools prepare to return to classes five days per week starting Monday.
Borchers has said about 80 percent of COVID-19 cases in the schools were due to activities outside of school. On Wednesday, he said 85.2 percent of the student cases in Oak Ridge Schools have been confirmed to be non-school related.
Borchers said the schools are not aware of any cases in which students or staff members have developed COVID-19 because they were in close contact with a person at school who was confirmed to be COVID-positive.
Oak Ridge Today is tracking cases in Oak Ridge Schools over seven-day periods starting Wednesday, July 29. We are defining a week as lasting from Wednesday to Tuesday since the first school week started on a Wednesday.
A total of 35 cases—29 student cases and six staff cases—have been reported since the school year started, according to information published by Oak Ridge Schools. Fourteen of the cases are current, and 21 are considered recovered.
About 41 percent of the student cases, 12 of them, have been among ORHS students. Seven have been among Jefferson Middle School students, and five have been among Glenwood Elementary School students. There have been three among RMS students, and one each at the Preschool and Woodland Elementary School. No cases have been reported at Linden Elementary School, Willow Brook Elementary School, or Secret City Academy.
Nine student cases were reported in Oak Ridge Schools in the week between Wednesday, July 21, and Tuesday, July 28 (Week 13). Four of them were reported Tuesday, the highest one-day total of the pandemic, and all nine of the new cases last week were reported between Friday and Tuesday.
One student case was reported in the week that started Wednesday, October 28 (Week 14), meaning there have been a total of 10 student cases since Friday.
There was also a staff case reported Wednesday.
There have been 13 cases reported in the past two weeks, since Wednesday, October 15—12 student cases and one staff case. The total of 12 cases in the past two weeks exceeded the 10 cases reported in the previous high period, a three-week period in August and early September.
Here is a summary of the cases in the past two weeks, according to a compilation of information from Oak Ridge Schools:
- October 15—one student at Oak Ridge High School. The student was last at ORHS on Monday, October 12.
- October 18—one student at Jefferson Middle School. The student was last at JMS on Friday, October 16.
- October 23—one student at Robertsville Middle School. The student was last at RMS on Monday, October 19.
- October 24—two students at ORHS. One student was last at the high school on Thursday, October 22, and the other was not at school last week and not in contact with other students since the student was infected.
- October 24—one student at the Preschool. The student was last at school on Thursday, October 22.
- October 25—one student at ORHS. The student was last at the high school on Friday, October 16.
- October 26—one student at Glenwood Elementary School. The student was at Glenwood on Tuesday morning, prompting a cleaning and disinfecting of the affected areas.
- October 26—one student at JMS. The student was last at the middle school on Friday, October 9.
- October 26—two students at ORHS. One student was last at the high school on Thursday, October 22, and the other was last at school on Friday, October 23.
- October 28—one staff member at RMS. The employee was last at the middle school on Monday, October 26.
- October 28—one student at ORHS. The student was last at ORHS on Thursday, October 22.
People who have been in contact with the infected students and staff members have been notified so they can quarantine, Borchers has said in letters to families.
Since the start of the school year, COVID-19 cases have been reported among two staff members at both ORHS and JMS, and one case has been reported among staff members at both the Preschool and Woodland.
Before the two new cases were announced at RMS on Tuesday afternoon, Borchers said that COVID-19 had been reported among less than 1 percent of students attending in-person classes and less than 1 percent of staff members teaching in person.
The increase in COVID-19 cases is not a problem unique to Oak Ridge. Anderson County reported its largest one-day increase, 40, on Wednesday, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said case counts are growing across the state and in most states across the country. Hospitalizations in Tennessee are at an all-time high.
School resumed this year on July 29, with students attending five days a week at the preschool and four elementary schools and with staggered schedules at the two middle schools and one high school—as well as with an online-only option. Under the staggered schedules, middle school and high school students attend classes two days a week and have online classes the other three.
The school system announced a transition plan on October 19, before the surge in cases this past week, to transition middle students back to a five-day-per-week schedule starting Monday, November 2. The goal is to evaluate the results of that transition before possibly bringing high school students back to school five days per week.
When the middle school transition plan was announced early last week, Borchers said a variety of measures—including personal hygiene, physical distancing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantines—had helped keep the spread of COVID-19 low during the first school term. The success at the preschool and elementary schools, where students have been attending five days per week, helped with the decision to bring middle schools back five days per week, Borchers said.
The middle school transition plan will apply to those students currently attending under the staggered schedule. Students in the online-only option, ConnectOR, will continue with that option.
Information about exposures for 26 of the student cases shows that the largest number of students, 10 of them, were exposed to COVID-19 through contact with a family member. The next largest number of exposures, five, came from community sports, followed by four each for friends and unknown.
On Wednesday, Borchers said the school system is confident that the precautions taken in school have been highly effective in reducing the potential spread of COVID-19 in the schools, based on the information about student exposures.
“Our students and staff have done an amazing job working together to assure that we are able to provide all parties a safe learning and working environment,” Borchers said. “Parents and staff can be confident that student and staff safety will remain as our top priority. We will continue to monitor COVID cases and make adjustments as appropriate to keep our students and staff safe.”
Announcing the middle school plan last week, Borchers said face-to-face instruction cannot be completely replicated in remote learning, and returning to a traditional school schedule will be best for students and families. He said surrounding school systems have successfully implemented traditional five-days-per-week schedules while maintaining low cases of COVID-19.
The superintendent said the decision to transition back to five days per week will increase class sizes and make it more difficult to maintain physical distances, so the school system will monitor that. The availability of substitute teachers could be a challenge, Borchers said. The school system could return to the current staggered schedules if there is a high number of COVID-19 cases, he said.
On Wednesday, the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Department of Health Policy in Nashville said major clusters of COVID-19 have not been traced to school transmission.
|School Week||Number of Cases|
|Week 1 (July 29-Aug. 4)||3|
|Week 2 (Aug 5-Aug 11)||0|
|Week 3 (Aug 12-Aug 18)||4|
|Week 4 (Aug 19-Aug 25)||1|
|Week 5 (Aug 26-Sept 1)||5|
|Week 6 (Sept 2-Sept 8)||0|
|Week 7 (Sept 9-Sept 15)||2|
|Week 8 (Sept 16-Sept 22)||2|
|Week 9 (Sept 23-Sept 29)||2|
|Week 10 (Sept 30-Oct 6)||0|
|Week 11 (Oct 7-Oct 13)||0|
|Week 12 (Oct 14-Oct 20)||2|
|Week 13 (Oct 21-Oct 27)||9|
|Week 14 (Oct 28-Nov 3 (partial week))||2|