Spiking COVID-19 cases creating waves in area

Staff Reports
Posted 11/17/20

A surge of COVID-19 activity throughout the country has resulted in a new set of concerns regarding the virus.

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Spiking COVID-19 cases creating waves in area


A surge of COVID-19 activity throughout the country has resulted in a new set of concerns regarding the virus.

At the local level, Madison County has seen delays to the start of the MHS basketball season and a temporary halt on all extra-curricular activities as the district reverts back to online learning the week before Thanksgiving break.

Madisonville CISD students are back to asynchronous instruction for all campuses this week due to an uptick of positive COVID-19 cases and individuals entering close-contact quarantine. All campuses are slated to return to in-person instruction Nov. 30.

“We were beginning to see a rise in positive cases with staff and students,” said Superintendent Keith Smith. “That was causing us to have to really increase the number of students that were quarantined who did not test positive, but had close contact (with someone who did).”

Smith said the move was made out of an abundance of caution after seeing the uptick of exposed individuals, which was still less than 2% as of Monday.

“We are not going to miss a whole lot of instruction,” said Smith. “We have asked instructors to have a week of lessons ready just to hand out at a moment’s notice, so we were prepared.”

Officials first discussed the possibility of temporarily returning to district-wide online learning in a mass email penned by Smith, which was sent to all district families Thursday.

The email stated MCISD had a total of 21 positive COVID-19 cases among students and 12 positive cases among staff, with the bulk of activity coming from students at the junior high and high school campuses.

The district has 2,297 students and 308 staff members. As of 11 a.m. Thursday, the total positive test rate was .01267 with the 21 students and 12 staff members.

“All of our campuses are doing exceptionally well in preventative measures,” said Smith in the email. “Due to age, mobility, and many other factors, our upper two campuses have experienced a rise in (COVID-19) activity during the last week. That being said, these campuses are still doing extremely well.”

MCISD had already sent 196 students home for close-contact quarantine as a precautionary measure. At the time of the email, these students had not tested positive for the virus.

The email stated the district had awaited guidance from legal counsel regarding the information they could release to families without violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). They received said legal guidance Thursday night before sending out the mass message.

The conclusion of the email referenced the Thanksgiving holiday and the importance of following standard COVID-19 guidelines during the celebration process.

“How we celebrate this holiday will have a dramatic impact on the quality of education that we will be able to provide moving forward,” said Smith in the email.

The district also suspended all extra-curricular activities in the email and hopes they will return with the students Nov. 30.

“Currently the plan is when we return, everything returns,” said Smith Monday. “But obviously we will have to look at it every single day and every hour.”

Smith also lauded district personnel and families for their handling of the unprecedented situation that has plagued administrators statewide since last spring.

“I’m really proud of the staff and how they handled it and I’m really proud of our families and how they’ve communicated with us,” said Smith. “We are also proud of the kids because they do a great job of wearing masks and social distancing. We are in good shape, we feel good moving forward.”

Asynchronous instruction does not require all participants to be present virtually at the same time. It rather includes self-paced online courses with intermittent teacher instruction, pre-assigned work with formative assessments on paper and watching pre-recorded videos of instruction with guided support.

The district offered the asynchronous learning option for all students from the beginning of the semester until Nov. 5, when it was scaled back as an option for only students who needed to miss time due to COVID-19.

The state and country as a whole have seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, as of Sunday evening, there are 39 active cases of COVID-19 in Madison County, which has had 803 cases since the pandemic began.

The county has had eight fatalities linked to the novel coronavirus so far.

Across the state, reported cases of COVID-19 have been steadily rising since the beginning of October. There are currently 131,820 active cases in the state, reports DSHS. The state was the first in the country to record more than 1 million cases late last week.

According to the Texas Tribune, the morgue in El Paso is so overwhelmed by the number of people dying from COVID-19 that inmates from the county’s detention facility are being brought in to assist with the overflow of bodies awaiting autopsy.

The Texas Tribune also reports most major universities in Texas are shifting the rest of the fall semester online after Thanksgiving so students avoid traveling back and forth, limiting exposure of the virus.

But few of those universities — some of which have been identified as coronavirus hot spots — have explicitly encouraged students to quarantine for 14 days before Thanksgiving or required exit testing, despite staggering rises in case counts across the state and country.