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Murray, Calloway Co. Schools To Continue In-Person Classes As COVID-19 Spread Becomes “Critical”

Ky. Dept. for Public Health

 State data this week shows Calloway County’s rate of COVID-19 spread has increased to the state’s most severe level classified as “critical”. Calloway County Schools and Murray Independent Schools leadership said the districts plan to continue in-person classes despite state guidance recommending school districts in counties with critical spread move to remote learning only.


The Kentucky Department for Public Health defines “critical” spread as a county having more than 25 daily cases per 100,000 people on average, represented as the color red on state graphics. The state public health department and the Kentucky Department of Education recommend school districts follow a published framework to determine if and when districts should move to remote learning only because of COVID-19 spread, in effect when the state’s overall COVID-19 test positivity rate is below 6%.


When a county reaches a “critical” level, the framework recommends districts stop in-person instruction to move to remote learning, while also suspending athletic and extracurricular activities. The framework states at this level, districts can bring in small groups of students for in-person instruction to receive “targeted services.”


Calloway County Health Department Interim Director Kim Paschall said she spoke with leadership at both school districts Thursday evening, and she recommended the districts follow state guidance and go fully remote. 


“Even though these recommendations are out there, and they’re strong recommendations, the school districts still have the freedom to make some decisions  on their own,” Paschall said. “I recommend that they follow these instruction metrics that they’ve put out for the K through 12 educators.” 


Paschall said the recent increase in COVID-19 cases is connected primarily to community spread, and she emphasized the importance of continuing to social distance and wear masks. She also said decreasing the number of places that someone visits, along with keeping track of who one comes in contact with can help the health department in contact tracing. 


The department reported Friday the county had 11 new cases, bringing the total number of cases ever in the county to 637. Three cases were hospitalized on Friday, and 530 cases have recovered. The county saw its tenth death on Thursday.


The health department reported 94 cases were isolated at home on Friday, significantly up from two weeks ago when 58 cases were isolated at home on September 18. 


Murray Independent Schools (MIS) Superintendent Coy Samons on Friday said his district is planning on continuing in-person instruction for some students in the coming week along with continuing athletics because cases among students and staff are low.


“On numerous occasions, it's been stated that their guidance is a recommendation. And we’re taking a look at that,” Samons said. “We’re going to monitor our student body, our staff. As long as those numbers are low, we’ll continue with two options for our families.” 


Data self-reported by MIS states as of Friday, only one active case is associated with the school district, a Murray Middle School student taking online instruction. There have been eight cases among students, staff, and teachers ever at the district, which enrolls 1589 students. Samons said the pandemic can be a fluid situation, with the district ready to pivot to remote learning only if necessary. 


MIS began offering in-person class instruction in early September, ahead of Governor Andy Beshear’s recommendation that school districts hold off on in-person classes until September 28. Calloway County Schools (CCS) began offering in-person instruction earlier than MIS also against the governor’s recommendation. 


CCS is also continuing with in-person classes next week for some students, despite state guidance and the recommendation from the local public health department. 


“It’s not that we’re being disrespectful to the guidance. We are absolutely listening and adhering to what we can and what we feel like,” said CCS Spokesperson Tawnya Hunter. “It’s not a complete disregard, it’s just we feel like we know our community the best.” 


Hunter said a decent percentage of students are remote learning in the school district, allowing for students learning in person at schools to better distance in class. She said about 40% of high school students are learning in person, with about 60% of students at other schools learning in person. 


“Our board is hearing from their constituents that we need our kids in school because we need to go to work, and we feel like they’re safe at school,” Hunter said. “If we have to make a quick movement and close school, our teachers are capable and ready.”


Hunter also said the case rate in the county is barely above the “critical” threshold, adding to the district’s reasoning for continuing in-person instruction. CCS is also continuing school athletics, and many high school football players were recently exposed to a positive case and are quarantining. 


The district reported Thursday that 78 high school students and two high school staff members are considered “active exposures”. The district has three active positive cases and 85 active exposures among staff and students total. 


"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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