District sees higher COVID-19 case count
As with many other school districts around the state, the Marshalltown Community School District is seeing higher COVID-19 case counts so far this school year compared to last year.
Last week, the Marshalltown Community School District reported its highest new case count since the COVID-19 pandemic began with 42 positive cases among both students and staff. This week, the district reported its second highest case count with 39 positive cases.
“There’s no question that this delta area appears, at least in the first month of school, to be catching many of our students at the elementary and the secondary level,” Superintendent Theron Schutte said.
Positive COVID-19 cases could bring about extra staffing challenges in the district.
If enough teachers are absent for an extended period, the district may have to temporarily close for a period of time. Schutte said he has sought guidance from Marshall County Public Health to determine how long that period of time would need to be if a closure were to occur.
When the district moved to total virtual learning last November, it was due to the lack of adults able to cover classrooms. Now due to state law, the district does not have the option to move to total virtual learning and count it as a school day meaning any total virtual days would have to be made up at the end of the year.
The school district is down 12 to 15 teachers this year from last year Schutte said, with fewer people going into the profession and fewer applying for jobs. The school district also has a smaller than usual substitute pool to pull from, making it harder to fill spots for absent teachers.
Data from Marshall County Public Health as of the last school board meeting on Sept. 20 shows less than half of children aged 12 to 18 have been vaccinated. Schutte believes if vaccination rates among children remain at their current levels the district will continue to have challenges with COVID-19.
Marshalltown Community School District Lead Nurse Stacey Tool-Crawford said the higher COVID-19 case reports haven’t surprised her, with COVID-19 numbers also up across the nation.
She said they always advise parents of children who call-in sick or are sent home to contact their health care provider, even if they are experiencing minor symptoms. She said because health care providers are now performing more COVID-19 tests it could contribute to higher case counts.
The switch from hybrid learning to total in-person could also possibly skew case count numbers from last year, she said.
“Last year there was so much uncertainty and when we had kids that were only here half of the time based on our hybrid schedule, I think it was confusing to families and I think sometimes families didn’t know for sure that they needed to notify us of COVID symptoms or COVID positive students,” Tool-Crawford said.
Now further into the pandemic, she feels parents are now more comfortable communicating to district positive tests and symptoms.
Close contacts, someone who is closer than six feet for longer than 15 minutes to someone who tests positive for COVID-19, are handled differently this school year. Last year, the Iowa Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease control recommended close contacts to stay home and quarantine.
Now close contacts have two options as recommended by the Iowa Department of Public Health. The first is quarantine for 10 days and if no symptoms are experienced after five days seek a COVID-19 test. If the test is negative and still no symptoms are experienced, return to school after seven days. The other option is if a close contact is not experiencing any symptoms they may still come to school and are encouraged to wear a mask, which is not required in grades seventh and up. Close contacts are also encouraged to contact their healthcare provider to see what they recommend.
“That is interesting and I would tell you a lot of our families are opting to not keep their student home and some are,” Tool-Crawford said. “We are kind of tracking that as well. It’s kind of a mixed back to be really honest.”
So far, the school district has had to report a day of at least 10 percent absences at Rogers Elementary School and came close to reporting for Hoglan Elementary School. These absences could be for any reason, but the state requires schools to report 10 percent or more absence days.
Tool-Crawford said making the report doesn’t happen very often, but it isn’t uncommon at the beginning of the school year to see more children and staff call-in sick.
“The fact that we didn’t have to have masks on at the beginning of this year I think that could have affected it as well, but just the fact in general that we’re all back together again. We’re all coming from different places and bringing different illnesses with us and I think we saw that little surge,” she said.
Tool-Crawford said she is happy with the current mitigation strategies the school district has in place and thinks it’s a positive that those at the elementary and intermediate levels are required to wear a mask.