Hardy Elementary employee quarantined

Published 7:27 pm Tuesday, September 22, 2020

A Hardy Elementary School employee is in a 14-day quarantine as a result of coming into close contact with someone outside of work who tested positive for COVID-19.

But in-person instruction at Hardy will continue for students in grades PreK-3, according to a letter Isle of Wight County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton sent to parents on Sept. 17.

“We understand this news is concerning and want to share our efforts to keep students and staff safe, healthy and in school,” Thornton said. “You will receive additional information should this individual test positive for COVID-19.”

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He then advised parents to continue to monitor their children’s health and the health of other family members for COVID-19 symptoms, which he said have generally included mild, cold-like symptoms in children, such as fever, runny nose and coughing.

“People without symptoms do not need to seek care or be tested,” Thornton said, referring to guidance the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued in August, which no longer recommended that asymptomatic individuals get tested — even if they’ve been recently exposed to the virus.

The CDC reversed course on this recommendation last Friday. Its website now states “Due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, this guidance further reinforces the need to test asymptomatic persons, including close contacts of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. SARS CoV-2 is the official name of the virus that causes COVID-19.

A Harvard University study in August found that while children who contract COVID-19 are not as likely to become as seriously ill as adults, even asymptomatic children can spread the infection in their homes and schools. According to the study’s authors, even seemingly healthy children in some cases had higher viral loads in their airways than adults hospitalized in intensive care units, meaning they are more contagious regardless of their susceptibility to developing COVID-19 symptoms.

A Sept. 17 New York Times story, which cites internal documents and interviews with federal officials, says the heavily criticized August recommendation was not written by CDC scientists but rather was added to the CDC’s website by its overseeing agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with edits from HHS officials and President Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, headed by Vice President Mike Pence. A similar recommendation arguing for “the importance of reopening schools,” was also added to the CDC website by HHS officials in July. Two days before the CDC reversed course on its August guidelines, HHS spokesman Michael Caputo announced he would be taking a leave of absence for health reasons. Three days prior to taking his leave, he had posted a video to Facebook discussing conspiracy theories about the CDC.

According to school division spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, the letter Thornton sent to parents the day before the CDC changed its guidelines was one of several boilerplate communiques the Virginia Department of Health prepared for school divisions to send to employees and the families of students in the event someone goes home with COVID-19 symptoms, tests positive for the virus, or in this case, gets exposed to someone outside of school who has tested positive.

As for the updated CDC guidelines, “That would be information we would share with any individuals we identify as having been in close contact with a person who’s been identified as positive,” Briggs said.

But the division isn’t planning on sending out a new version of last week’s letter to the entire Hardy community.

“Our letter is not going to change,” she said.

As of Monday, Briggs didn’t know whether the quarantined Hardy employee has since been tested, but said either way, the same procedure requiring a 14-day quarantine goes into effect.

“Even if they test negative, regardless of what their test results are, they are not coming back into our building until after that 14-day isolation period,” she said.

Briggs also couldn’t say if the quarantined employee was in a position that has close contact with students.

If a student does test positive, Thornton asks that parents inform their child’s school.

“This information will be kept confidential,” he assured.

To Briggs’ knowledge, no Hardy students are in quarantine — just the one employee. The Virginia Department of Health isn’t currently reporting any outbreaks in its Western Tidewater Health District linked to educational facilities.

A special called School Board meeting on possibly expanding in-person instruction beyond grades PreK-3 is scheduled for Sept. 30, which Briggs confirmed is still on.

“I’m sure the number of positive cases, exposures to positive cases, as well as those isolating with COVID-19-like symptoms will all be part of the discussion and decision making process for any changes to the in-person continuum,” she said.