COVID-19 cases among students and staff in several area districts don’t seem to be vanishing. To the contrary, numbers appear to have increased in recent weeks.
In the Gibson City-Melvin- Sibley district, Superintendent Jeremy Darnell said there have been more positive tests since the first of the new year than the district had the entire first semester.
“It’s been more elevated for us,” he said. “This past week was our highest number. We had 11 positive tests with students and teachers out of 1,100 people.”
Darnell said he anticipates that number leveling off as warmer weather approaches “and we continue to do our mitigations as best we can.”
He said the higher numbers are a combination of more activity and more space restrictions.
GCMS is in session four days a week. Many students have had to quarantine, requiring remote learning. The district is all remote on Wednesdays.
Because of the higher recent numbers of positive cases and close contacts, 10 to 12 percent of students have been learning remotely, compared with an average of between 5 and 7 percent during the school year.
Darnell said 82 percent of staff chose to receive the vaccine. Their second dose will be administered March 3.
Monticello Superintendent Vic Zimmerman said his district has seen the percentage of students learning at school climb from 85 percent the first semester to 90 percent at the start of the second.
He expects that to rise to 95 percent at the end of this quarter.
“We’ve had a few kinks,” he said. “We shut down right around Thanksgiving (for 10 days) because we had too many cases in the town, not necessarily in the school. It caused a bunch of close contacts.”
Since then, “a classroom here and there” have had to shut down.
“We aren’t seeing any in-school spread,” Zimmerman said. “It’s all from outside the school. Overall, I couldn’t be happier.”
Last week, Monticello had three positive cases that closed down a classroom, the highest number of the school year. There were 40 close contacts.
“It feels like it’s getting less,” he said in terms of COVID-19 case numbers, “but maybe we’re just getting used to it.”
Zimmerman said 85 percent of staff took the vaccine two weeks ago. Since then, more staffers have indicated they would like to receive the first dose, so Zimmerman expects the numbers to climb to 90 percent, “which is pretty awesome,” he said.
At Mahomet-Seymour, Superintendent Lindsey Hall said, “Every day is a different day.”
“We definitely have cases.”
On Feb. 8, the district recorded its highest number of close contacts of the school year at 42, with six COVID-19 cases. The next-highest number of close contacts was 37 on Jan. 15 with eight COVID-19 cases.
The district does an average of 500 rapid tests a day (of mostly students) on Mondays, so numbers are higher that day.
“On Monday, we found six positive cases, and 42 people had to go into quarantine because of contact tracing,” Hall said.
On Thursday, there were two new cases and 12 exposures.
“We’re managing it,” she said. “Our kids are coming four days a week. We’re not doing the hybrid model anymore. I think all things considered, we continue to move ahead.”
Staff was encouraged to get the vaccine, but Hall said the district is not tracking how many received the first dose.
“It was strongly encouraged,” she said.
Rantoul City Schools Superintendent Michelle Ramage said the district continues to have positive COVID-19 cases, primarily in students, and the numbers have increased recently.
Since Jan. 19, three staffers and 15 students have tested positive at RCS.
Three classrooms were moved to full remote for a period — one at Northview Elementary, one at Eater Junior High and one at Pleasant Acres Elementary.
Figures from earlier in the year were unavailable.
“Often what is misunderstood is the number of employees and students who are not at school due to symptoms and/or close contacts, not necessarily positive cases. So while we may have a decrease in staff cases, we still have staff who are at home for their own situation or their own family situations related to COVID,” Ramage said.
She said “very seldom” does RCS have to quarantine for close contact situations at school because students are 6 feet apart.
Numbers of how many staff received the first round of the vaccine are not available. However, a recent district staff survey saw two-thirds of the staff (224) participate. Of that total, 162 indicated they received their first vaccine, while 62 said they anticipate getting at least the first round by the end of May.
RCS offers full-remote learning as well as its BlenED Academy (in-person) hybrid. She said RCS classrooms are “close to full in many grade levels.”
The district offered full remote learning in November through the holidays as recommended by the health department.
Salt Fork Superintendent Phil Cox, while not providing numbers, said the district has “had some positive (cases) among students and staff, and we do the contact tracing.”
He said the district had to shut down a building “or the district if we get a lot of people on quarantine.”
Last week, Salt Fork shut down the high school and went to all-remote learning.
“But for the most part, what we’re seeing is the spread happening outside of school. We have seen very few cases of the spread here in the schools.”
Cox said the numbers have been “pretty steady since Christmas break.”
The 863-enrollment district has five-day in-person classes, dismissing at 12:30 p.m. Cox said about 15 percent of students are learning remotely.
Salt Fork staff will receive their second round of the vaccine from OSF Medical Center, Danville, next week.
— to www.news-gazette.com