JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A Johnson City school administrator credits a masking requirement, seating charts and other mitigation measures to a marked downturn in COVID-19 cases and the need for quarantining in the city’s schools.
“We’re cautiously optimistic is the term that I always use,” Johnson City Schools’ Supervisor of Safety and Mental Health Greg Wallace told News Channel 11 Wednesday. “But we feel like our mitigation strategies have been very successful from the point where we were extremely high before we started putting the mitigation strategies in place.”
Those strategies ramped up after the system saw a huge spike in cases and quarantines during the first couple of weeks of school.
By Aug. 10, less than a week after school began, Johnson City reported a total of 52 active COVID-19 cases among students and staff. That total tripled over the next week, reaching 152 on Aug. 17.
That was one day after the Johnson City School Board’s mask requirement — with a parental opt-out clause — went into effect after the board passed it in a called meeting Aug. 13.
The number of active cases peaked at 205 on Aug. 20 and was still at 184 by Aug. 24.
“That first week and a half (post mask mandate) was crazy and then once we got on top of it, we felt very comfortable that at least under the current circumstances, we’re in a very manageable place,” Wallace said.
In the days following the mandate, a total of six “teams” of three classrooms each from Indian Trail Intermediate School (ITIS) were sent home for two weeks of remote learning due to elevated case spread there.
But since Aug. 24, the number has dropped 67% to 159 on Aug. 31, 110 onSept. 7 and 61 Tuesday.
All Indian Trail hallways are back – happy with how hallway closures worked, Wallace said.
“All of our classrooms or teams that were closed are currently back except for one at an elementary school, which comes back I think tomorrow,” he said.
That’s occurred even as a significant minority of parents have opted their children out of the mandate. As of Sept. 3, 26% of students were opted out — 2,091 out of a total enrollment of 8,035.
Wallace acknowledged that some of those parents have called their schools, concerned that their children are still wearing school-supplied masks once on campus.
But he said the system will continue deferring to the experts. That includes its own nurses who recommend seating charts and help limit quarantines when there is a case.
“Our nurses work with those teachers,” Wallace said. “They look at those seating charts. They try to pull those names apart, make sure that only the students that need to go home.”
In those instances, if both a positive student and an exposed one were masked, the exposed student doesn’t have to quarantine if they have no symptoms. If they weren’t masked, they do.
Wallace said the other main decision driver is the health department, including when it comes to deciding whether to extend mask requirements or persist in any other mitigation measures that aren’t routine.
“If something’s working, we’re going to defer to the local experts when they tell us this is something they think we should do. That’s going to be a huge factor in our decision process. But we certainly want to look at the data. We don’t want to keep things that some people would see as restrictive in place any longer than we have to.”
Week after return from full shutdown, county schools cases, quarantines flat
Washington County Schools faced even more rampant case rates than the city, so much so that the system opted for a full shutdown that lasted a full week plus Labor Day.
Aug. 27 was the system’s last full day before the shutdown began, and at that point, the schools had 1,578 people quarantined — 1,495 of them students.
In addition, 221 active student cases and 37 active staff cases comprised the 258 total cases. That meant 18% of all students were quarantined.
Director Jerry Boyd said the gap would allow for many of those people to come off of quarantine, and the numbers were down significantly upon return on Sept. 7.
In addition to a 62% decrease in quarantines, to 597 (including 568 students), cases were down 73%, from 258 to 70.
A large number also rolled off the next day, as those numbers dropped to 369 in quarantine and 57 cases Sept. 8.
The week since has seen numbers remain relatively flat. As of Wednesday, there were 408 quarantines, with 383 of them students. That marked a 12% increase from a week earlier, when 342 students were quarantined.
Active cases totaled 55, with 40 students and 15 staff barely different from a week earlier when the numbers were 42 students and 15 staff.
From the last day pre-closure to Wednesday, quarantines are down 74% and active cases are down 79%.