Pottawatomie County Schools Respond to Orange COVID-19 Alert
August 20, 2020
Aug. 21 – Pottawatomie County school districts looked at a possible need to change protocols for students attending in-person classes due to the county’s risk level being raised to an orange-level today by the Oklahoma State Health Department. The rise has been attributed to a significant increase in cases at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center.
This week’s OSDH alert map shows Pottawatomie County at 29.91 new cases per 100,000, through Aug. 20. Last week’s map had the county at 13.9 new cases per 100,000, through Aug. 13.
An orange alert is issued when new daily cases are 14.39 per 100,000 population or above. A yellow alert is issued when a county is between 1.43 and 14.39 new cases per 100,000 population. Pottawatomie County had previously been in the yellow range since OSDH launched the new color-coded alert system on July 9. Previous weekly numbers per 100,000 were 4.32 as of July 8, 6.29 as of July 16, 9.63 as of July 23, 12.79 as of July 30 and 11.70 as of Aug. 6.
MABEL BASSETT SITUATION:
As of Aug. 20, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows 115 Mabel Bassett inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, with three listed as recovered. Another 21 staff members have reported positive tests.
The McLoud correctional center has 117 inmates in isolation and as many as 522 under a 14-day quarantine, according to ODOC.
Statewide, of the 542 confirmed positive, 16 are indicated as hospitalized. A total of 609 tests were listed as pending as of Thursday.
SCHOOL CHANGES ANNOUNCED
Many Pottawatomie County schools have decided to continue with protocols already put in place, with a few districts making changes.
The Oklahoma State School Board Association details guidelines for each level. Those guidelines may be found at https://www.ossba.org/resources/coronavirus/covid-19-map/.
Wanette Public Schools is one district that has announced a few changes based on the OK COVID-19 alert.
Superintendent Dr. Silvia McNeely posted a memo on social media stating the changes, in addition to an issue with the district’s phone lines.
“We are asking that you please do not enter the building, and please always wear a mask while on campus,” the superintendent’s memo stated. “Also, we are request(ing) that your child has a mask and to have him/her wear that mask/shield while on campus once our students enter into their classrooms, they may remove that mask/shield. We will continue to promote washing of hands and other health related etiquette. Our assigned staff will continue to frequently disinfect the facility and playground areas to maintain a healthy and safe environment.”
While the phone issue is being addressed by AT&T, Dr. McNeely said contact with the school may be made at [email protected] or at 580-559-1215 (temporarily).
McLoud Public Schools announced Wednesday that a high school student had been confirmed positive for the virus. The letter to parents stated the high school would be closed until Monday to allow for the facility to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.”
“Contact tracing is being done at this time and families will be notified soon,” an update stated Thursday on social media. “The incident was contained as students moved within their pod. We will follow district protocol with quarantine and sanitation.”
No announcement by the school has been made at this time relating to the increased county alert level.
NO SCHOOL CHANGES
Dale Public Schools posted on social media, “Dale Public Schools is aware of a correctional facility in Pottawatomie County that has recently reported over 100 positive cases of COVID-19. Since this is an isolated case in a self-contained facility, we do not feel that any changes to our school schedule or protocols are necessary at this time. This is also in collaboration with our local health department officials.”
Tecumseh Superintendent Tom Wilsie announced yesterday that an elementary staff member had tested positive for COVID-19 and on Friday said the school has been in regular communication with the health department regarding the increase in county cases, as well as the confirmed positive at the school.
In a memo to parents on the district’s first day back in school he said the positive case was that of a child nutrition employee at Barnard Elementary. The staff member did not report to work Thursday and was not in the building at any time while students were present, the memo stated.
“The kitchen at Barnard was closed immediately and will remain closed until it can be thoroughly sanitized. Cafeterias at all other school sites in the district were not affected.”
“During this time, we will use the kitchens and staff from other sites to assist us with the preparation of breakfast and lunch meals for our Barnard students.”
During a phone interview Friday, the superintendent said the school took action to try and identify anyone who had possibly been exposed and that the health department is continuing to conduct further contact tracing.
As for the increase in the county’s risk level, Wilsie said health officials alerted the district Thursday in anticipation of the move to an orange alert due to the more than 100 inmates at Mable Bassett. As explained, the general consensus was that the outbreak was not affecting the general public.
Since the numbers outside of the correctional facility are staying pretty consistent, Wilsie said Tecumseh plans to continue with the protocols already in place.
Wilsie also reported a good first two days back in session, with a few hiccups being addressed with the introduction of the new learning management system district-wide. He said they hope to have the issues worked out by Monday.
Wilsie estimated around 25-30 percent of students enrolled in all virtual or a blended virtual option this year.
Macomb Superintendent Matt Riggs said classes resumed with a more stringent set of guidelines from the start, including required face masks for all staff and students, with younger students receiving extra patience.
“We didn’t want to have to re-establish protocols,” he said. “So the protocols we put in place to begin with we felt like would be maybe more stringent when the county was at a lower level.
“We thought it would be appropriate if the county did raise its level so that we didn’t’ have to retrain our staff and our students.”
A pod-style has been implemented with students staying in classrooms for meals and only one class attending PE at a time. Each grade at the elementary has a single teacher and classroom and grades seven through twelve also stay in their same classrooms, with teachers rotating.
Parents were also given the option of virtual instruction this year. Riggs said around 30 students enrolled for full virtual and the district was able to dedicate one teacher for the district’s virtual learners.
Macomb returned to school on Wednesday, Aug. 19.
Maud Public Schools posted a similar message stating, “The number of positive COVID cases in Pottawatomie County have increased significantly due to results from a correctional facility. Maud Schools, in collaboration with health officials, does not feel that any changes to our school protocol are necessary at this time.”
Maud’s first day back was Aug. 13.
Bethel Superintendent Tod Harrison released a memo yesterday – the district’s first day back in school – stating in light of the significant increase in county cases resulting from an outbreak at Mabel Bassett, “Bethel Public Schools, in collaboration with local health officials and county school districts, do not feel that any changes to our school schedule or school protocols are necessary at this time.”
“We will continue with ‘in-person’ classes and continue to adhere to our ‘Return to Learn’ protocols published on our district website.”
His letter continued, “...Pottawatomie county superintendents and local health department officials believe these institutional numbers should not impact our school attendance due to it being a very contained situation.”
Shawnee Superintendent Dr. April Grace sent out a letter to parents and school staff today stating the district had been made aware of the significant increase in the county’s cases resulting primarily from positives at the correctional facility.
“This is considered an institutional spread, rather than a community spread,” she said in the letter.
“Despite the increase in positive cases, our county health authorities do not believe that our community is at any greater risk from COVID-19 than it has been in recent weeks. At this time, we do not need to make any changes to our current school schedule and safety protocols.”
Dr. Grace also reminded parents and staff of the city of Shawnee mask mandate.
“This ordinance does apply to all of our athletic facilities both indoor and outside. Masks must be worn at all times indoors and outside where social distancing cannot be kept. Our best opportunity to keep school open, as well as extracurricular activities in place, is to follow these guidelines with diligence.”
Earlsboro Public Schools returned to classes yesterday. The Countywide & Sun has been unable to reach the superintendent for comment at this time. Social media posts stated masks are required on school buses.
A reminder to parents was also posted Thursday stating, “We cannot let you in the building tomorrow or any other day for the foreseeable future. I understand it being the first day and all but your child will need to say their goodbyes at the door. Thank you for your understanding.”
Asher Public Schools returned to classes Aug. 11. The Countywide & Sun has been unable to reach the superintendent for comment at this time.
A reminder was also posted to Asher parents on Thursday on social media stating, “If you are a parent or guardian please, do not enter the buildings. If you need to speak to someone come to the North entrance and ring doorbell and we will take care of you. We have noticed that some parents are coming inside in the mornings to classrooms, and we are just reminding everyone to please follow the steps we have taken to keep our students and staff in a safe environment. Thank you.”
OSDH will deem a county as in a high-risk phase (red) if the county is reporting more than 14.39 daily new cases per 100,000 and one or more of the four thresholds occur in the State within a given week. More information about the four thresholds, in addition to guidelines at each level, is available at https://coronavirus.health.ok.gov/covid-19-alert-system.