BY SABRINA BATES
WEAKLEY COUNTY (August 18) – As schools across the county welcome back more than 3,400 in the public education system and several thousand University of Tennessee at Martin students this week, guidance from the Center for Diseases Control (CDC) was used to educate staff, parents and children for safe reopenings in the midst of the global COVID-19 health pandemic.
A team that includes Weakley County Supervisor of School Nurses Beth Kempton, Coordinated School Health Director Bethany Allen, Safe Schools Coordinator Lorna Benson and Director of Schools Randy Frazier, spent the summer studying CDC guidelines, information from the state and worked with the local Health Department, to establish the Health portion of the System’s Plan for Reopening.
Once the plan of action was in place, a plan that is fluid as information is updated on the federal and local levels, Schools Communication Director Karen Campbell worked with central office staff to create handbills and in-service packets to take the recommendations to faculty and parents of children in the community.
Both systems rolled out reopening plans that include mask-wearing, social distancing, virtual programs and smaller class sizes when possible, extensive cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces, promoting hand-washing measures and personal responsibility.
Keys to slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the community based on CDC guidance include mask-wearing and quarantining when exposed to the novel coronavirus, especially for those who test positive for COVID-19.
The CDC recommended that school systems encourage employees and students who are sick or who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 to stay home. Close contact is defined as persons being closer than six feet for more than 10 minutes. The Weakley County Health Department recommends those who have been in close contact with someone who shows symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19 to also test for the virus. The health department, located on Highway 22 outside of Dresden, provides free nasal swab drive-through testing Monday through Friday.
It is recommended once a person develops potential COVID-19 symptoms, he/she should quarantine by staying home, monitoring symptoms and get tested. Those who are waiting for test results are also encouraged to remain in quarantine at home until their results are available. COVID-19 test results are available between 3 to 10 days, depending on processing time.
The Weakley County School System is advising parents to keep sick students at home and those exposed to COVID-19 to also quarantine.
“If a child is not feeling well, that student will need to stay at home. If a student has had close contact with someone who has tested positive, that student will need to quarantine – not only from school, but from other places as well, in order for us to slow the spread. And obviously, if someone tests positive, they must isolate. That’s a mandate,” Frazier noted.
“We are going to rely on parents to inform us of any COVID-related situation. We would like documentation,” said Benson, Safe Schools Coordinator.
The family of any child who is quarantined will need to contact the school principal to work out assignments. If the family is quarantined, they will need to arrange for someone outside the family to pick up materials.
“We are doing everything we can at our school from sanitizing to spacing to wearing of masks, but we need the community to educate themselves about this virus and learn how to keep their children safe. In reality, we can all take precautions at school, but it’s a community effort,” Frazier added. The system has flexible attendance policies in place for such instances of students dealing with the novel coronavirus.
Students who test positive while attending UT Martin are given a furnished housing unit on campus, separate from the general housing, during their quarantine period.
According to the CDC, research of the novel coronavirus remains ongoing, as the organization asseses re-infection, asymptomatic cases and test results. It is unknown if someone can be reinfected with COVID-19, but those recovered may have low levels of the virus in their bodies that may prompt additional positive results within three months of infection.
A person with COVID-19 with symptoms is advised to stay home until 14 days after the last exposure and maintain six feet of distance from others throughout a quarantine. For those who have tested positive, but show no symptoms, the CDC recommends they self-monitor for symptoms and remain home for 14 days. Those with symptoms should isolate themselves from others, including within their home.
Common symptoms of COVID-19 include a mild fever (100.4), cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste and/or smell, sore throat, vomiting or diarrhea.
As the number of positive cases began a steady rise in the last couple of weeks in Weakley County, Mayor Jake Bynum issued a mask mandate in public spaces in the county. Businesses and organizations were encouraged to post signs on entrances requiring customers and visitors to wear a face covering upon entry.
Students in local schools are required to wear masks in the hallways and open areas of the building, while entering in the mornings and leaving in the afternoons. Students have their temperature checked by school staff upon leaving their vehicles in the morning for drop-offs. Visitors to schools are limited and required to wear a face covering prior to entry.
The school system is also asking parents to monitor the emotional well-being of their children and seek a professional if there are concerns.
Confirmed cases continue to climb in Weakley County as Tuesday’s state Department of Health website update shows the county with 397 active COVID-19 cases. The number of COVID-19-related deaths for the county are at seven. Sixteen residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms.
Of the 637 total case count since the pandemic reporting began in March, 119 of those cases are of those between the ages of 21-30. Seventy confirmed cases are between the ages of 5-18.
In Obion County, there were 313 active COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, with a reported four related deaths.
Carroll County had 246 active COVID cases as of Tuesday, August 18, 2020, and six related deaths.
Henry County, another under a public mask mandate, had 167 active cases and three related deaths.
Daily data can be found on the Tennessee Department of Health website by clicking on the yellow “Information” bar.