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Loyal deals with COVID issues

The Loyal School District would have continued to require face masks for students and staff if the state order mandating their usage had been allowed to expire next week. The district Board of Education voted 6-1 Monday night to that effect, and also decided to go with the rest of the schools in the Cloverbelt Conference in regard to spectator limits at athletic events.

The Board met in special session on Monday, with Clark County Public Health Director Brittany Mews attending remotely to inform the district on quarantining, facemasks and other guidelines. Fifteen community members were at the meeting, with some commenting about the recent situation in which about 60 students were sent home to quarantine for 14 days after someone in the building tested positive for COVID-19.

Loyal had conducted nine days of classes before its first COVID incident hit. On Sunday, Sept. 13, district officials were notified by the Health Department that someone with a positive test had been in the building the prior week. That prompted the school to keep all students home on Sept. 14, while contact tracing work was completed to see who may have been in contact with the positive case. Classes resumed on Sept. 15, with approximately 60 students and staff members told to stay home for 14 days.

Mews said Monday it is the Health Department — not a school district — that enforces quarantine measures. Following state Department of Health Services guidelines, the county Health Department has authority to issue quarantine orders to those in contact with a positive case.

The length of quarantine can vary from 10 to 14 days, depending on circumstances. For someone who tests positive for COVID-19, their “onset date” is considered to be two days before they first saw symptoms, and they must isolate for 10 days from that onset date.

For someone who has been exposed to a positive case (considered to be first contact if within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes) and who shows no symptoms themselves, they must quarantine for 14 days. That timeline is considered to be the incubation period for COVID-19.

“It can take up to 14 days to show symptoms or test positive,” Mews said.

That variance in isolation periods has created some confusion in Loyal, said Board President Jennifer Kadolph. She asked Mews if the district could just require a 14-day quarantine period in all cases to avoid confusion. Mews said that is not for the district to decide.

Mews said the quarantine orders given in Loyal are the same for any other school or public entity in the state.

“It’s not that Clark County has made a rule,” she said. “We follow and enforce those (state) rules locally.”

Parents also expressed concerns with the communication between the Health Department, school and families. After the positive case was first identified and contact tracing completed, there was some variance in time between when families were notified.

Mews said the Health Department is responsible not only for all eight school districts in the county, but health care facilities, nursing homes, businesses and individuals. With more than 200 people currently in quarantine and another 46 known to have active COVID cases, county workers are trying to keep up with everyone.

“Our health department is spread very thin,” Mews said.

On the subject of face masks, the Board discussed what it would do if and when Gov. Tony Evers’ current order on the requirement of masks in indoor public settings would be allowed to expire on Sept. 28. It became a moot discussion on Tuesday morning when Evers announced he would extend the order for 60 more days.

Loyal District Administrator Chris Lindner recommended to the Board that it continue to require masks anytime people are less than six feet apart. The school will continue to make social distancing a priority, he said, but when the proper distance cannot be achieved, the masks must go on. He said everyone will be required to have a mask with them and to wear them “when that proximity is less than the required social distancing.” That guideline will be reviewed monthly and revised as necessary.

Mews said health officials would continue to advise schools to require masks, even if the state order was lifted.

“Public health strongly encourages public schools to continue with masking … Masking is critical,” she said.

Mews said masking is part of the larger effort to slow the COVID-19 spread. Mask and quarantine orders are not enjoyable, she said, but necessary in a time of pandemic.

“We understand this is frustrating. Trust me, this is frustrating for us,” Mews said. “We want nothing more than to see the kids in school … but we really need to be smart about it.”

Board member Cara Prior said the school should continue the mask mandate.

“Nobody likes these things, but we’ve got to keep these kids in school,” she said.

Board member Tom Odeen said the school must “do all we can” to keep students and staff healthy so in-person education can continue.

“It makes it easier to teach these kids in class in-person versus virtual,” he said. “They (staff members) want to be here as much as the students want to be here.”

Board member Dave Clintsman said he supports a policy to “highly recommend” the use of masks, but not a requirement. He cast the lone vote against Lindner’s recommendation.

The Board also voted 6-1 to abide by the Cloverbelt Conference’s recommendation for athletic event spectator limits. For indoor varsity, junior varsity and eighthgrade events, each athlete will receive four tickets for family members. Opposing teams will have those same limits. The limit will be two tickets for C-team and seventh-grade games, because those will be held in the smaller middle school gym. The 4-ticket rule will also apply to football games.

Lindner said the conference is trying to keep an equitable balance between schools. It’s not an ideal situation, he said, but a compromise that at least allows family members to view games.

“We’re fortunate that we have sports offered and are being able to play but we can have that taken,” Lindner said. “We tell our athletes, We don’t know when this will be done. They need to cherish every day that we can get.”

Board member Kim Bremmer said she supports the ticket limit for now, but wants to know how it could eventually be increased.

“There’s no end point,” she said. “How do we move forward to getting no restrictions on spectators? It’s fine, just what’s the end point?”

The Board voted 6-1 in favor of the limits, with Bremmer voting no.