Three more COVID-19 cases were reported among Oak Ridge Schools students on Wednesday and Thursday. Two were at Oak Ridge High School, and one was at Woodland Elementary School. There have 13 cases among students since Friday and eight cases among ORHS students in the past week.
The surge in cases among students has occurred as middle schools prepare to return to in-person classes five days per week starting Monday. Student cases were reported almost every day this past week, with the number of cases ranging between one and four. That is a higher number of cases per day than at any other time this school year.
Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers has said about 80 percent of COVID-19 cases in the schools have been 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. Also 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.
Information about exposures for 26 of the student cases in Oak Ridge Schools 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.
Still, some Oak Ridge parents have expressed concern about having middle school students return to school five days per week as the case count rises in Anderson County. Anderson County reported its largest one-day increase in cases on Wednesday, 40, followed by another record daily increase on Thursday, 41. Cases are trending up again in Tennessee as well, after the July peak, and increasing significantly for the third time in the United States.
A total of 38 cases—32 student cases and six staff cases—have been reported in Oak Ridge Schools since the school year started.
About 44 percent of the student cases, 14 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, two at Woodland, and one at the Preschool. No cases have been reported at Linden Elementary School, Willow Brook Elementary School, or Secret City Academy.
As of Wednesday, there were 46 students and five staff members who were not allowed to attend school because they have been in close contact with someone at school who has been confirmed to have COVID-19, Borchers said.
Here is a summary of cases in Oak Ridge Schools during 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.
- October 28—one student at Woodland Elementary School. The student was last at Woodland on Friday, October 23.
- October 29—two students at ORHS. One student was last at ORHS on Monday, October 12, and the other was last there on Friday, October 23.
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.
Oak Ridge Today reported Thursday that the largest number of COVID-19 cases in Anderson County is among young patients, with the 11-20 and 21-30 age groups now reporting the most cases of any age groups. On Wednesday, the Tennessee Department of Health reported there were 250 COVID-19 cases among school-age patients (5-18 years old) in Anderson County.
In Oak Ridge, 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 bring 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.
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.”
|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))||5|
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.
See previous story here.