Sixteen cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Oak Ridge Schools this school year. Fifteen of those cases are current, and one is recovered, according to the school system. The number of current cases appears to have about doubled in a few days, from eight to 15.
Almost half of the current cases, seven of them, are at Willow Brook Elementary School. Four of those cases are students, and three are staff members. That outbreak appears to have been reported in the past few days. A few days ago, there was one staff case reported at Willow Brook and no student cases.
Four cases of COVID-19 have been reported at Oak Ridge High School, all among students. Three of those are current, and one is recovered, Oak Ridge Schools said in a COVID-19 case dashboard posted on its website.
There are three current cases among students at Robertsville Middle School and two are among students at Jefferson Middle School.
Students across the country have returned to school or are returning as the delta variant spreads. That variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has driven a surge in cases and hospitalizations, mostly among the unvaccinated, and reportedly affected more young people.
There is no specific information available about how the spread of the delta variant is affecting infected students and staff in Oak Ridge. In other words, it’s not clear how many infected students and staff have no symptoms or mild symptoms and how many have moderate or serious symptoms. One of the concerns about children being infected is that, even if their illness is mild, they might transmit the virus to someone more vulnerable.
In Oak Ridge, students returned to school about a week ago, on Wednesday, July 29, although staff and teachers were in schools before that. The students’ return last week was about two weeks after cases started to steadily climb in Anderson County and surge in Tennessee.
Health officials say vaccines are the best tool to combat COVID-19. However, students younger than 12 years old are not able to get a vaccine because they have not been approved for emergency use yet. On Monday, Oak Ridge Board of Education member Angi Agle said more than 50 percent of students here are not old enough for vaccinations.
Other than vaccinations, health experts say options for helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include masks, good indoor air ventilation, and physical distances. On Monday, a small group of students and two school board members asked for face masks to be required in schools this year. But the school system has not made a decision yet. So far, masks are optional in Oak Ridge School this year after being required last year. The relaxation of that requirement occurred as the number of new daily cases was in the middle of a months-long decline from January to June.
Oak Ridge Today has received several reports that few people are wearing masks in school this year. One parent told the Oak Ridge Board of Education on Monday that her two children are receiving non-stop comments because they wear masks for their own protection.
The school system said masks are optional now but could be required if the number of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases escalates in Oak Ridge Schools.
There don’t appear to be many school districts in the area requiring masks at this time, but it’s not clear if that will change. The University of Tennessee announced this week that it will require face masks in many indoor situations. Anderson County School announced that masks are optional, and Roane State Community College said they are recommended.
The Oak Ridge school system has posted its health and safety plan to respond to COVID-19. That plan includes hand sanitizer stations in schools, disinfecting of surfaces and buses, COVID-19 testing, tracing of close contacts, information about masks, ionization equipment to clean indoor air, and the COVID-19 case count dashboard.
The school system said students and staff who have been in close contact with a person confirmed to have COVID-19 will be restricted from attending school. Last school year, the number of students identified as a close contact who later contracted COVID-19 was extremely low, Oak Ridge Schools said. “We will consistently monitor students that are identified as close contacts to a student or staff member confirmed to have COVID-19 to determine if further at-school precautions are needed,” the school system said.
Oak Ridge Schools said it is installing a certain type of ionization equipment in all heating and air systems. The technology helps clean indoor air and improve the air by reducing airborne particles including certain odors, viruses, and bacteria, the school system said. The Preschool, Robertsville Middle School, and Willow Brook and Glenwood elementary schools have received the technology, and it is being installed at ORHS.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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