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Data shows it’s safe for students to return to classrooms, WVDE says

Published: Jan. 5, 2021 at 5:54 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WTAP) - Data made public by the West Virginia Department of Education Data shows there were 68 COVID-19 outbreaks in state schools between August and December 2020 but that schools are not a “a main driver of community transmission.”

The information on the department’s website indicates the outbreaks resulted in 573 confirmed cases – 53 percent staff, 47 percent students - in 44 counties and 10 outbreaks among students’ transmission that were linked to buses, classrooms or extracurricular activities.

The release of the information comes as county school systems are formulating plans to return to five-day-a-week, in-person classes at all elementary and middles school on Jan. 19. Students at public high schools are also scheduled to return to the classroom on Jan. 19 if their county is not red on the education department’s latest weekly advisory map.

The department said data collected in 191 countries shows “no consistent link between in-person school instruction and increase transmission of COVID-19.” Instead, students and school employees are more likely to be exposed to the virus outside of school settings or in situations where COVID-10 guidelines are not followed, the department said.

“Schools and local health departments have worked diligently to implement protective measures to further reduce transmission in the school setting,” the department said.

This includes consistent and correct use of masks; social distancing when possible; hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette; cleaning and disinfecting of appropriate areas; and collaborative contact tracing by schools and local health departments.

In addition, the department said the data showed that when schools are closed, many school-age children go to child-care facilities or are cared for by people outside their home.

“Not only does this potentially increase student exposure, but it is also unclear whether these settings implement the same protective measures to reduce the transmission of COVID-19,” the department said. “Research indicates districts that close schools attempting to curb community transmission have higher rates of transmission then those districts that have remained opened and followed protocols.”

While using the data to show it is safe for students to return to the classroom, the department also pointed out the importance of having students attend in-person classes. It said one-third of students received a failing grade in at least one core subject area during the first semester of 2020 when schools were forced to rely heavily on remote learning.

In addition, the department said students benefit in other ways when schools are fully open.

The Department of Health and Human Resources said child protective service referrals are down by an average of 50 percent to 54 percent per month because of the lack of in-person instruction.

“Student social-emotional well-being suffers and exposure to trauma increases as a result of isolation caused by COVID and students being separated from the nurturing school environment.”

The department said children who are not attending in-person classes also suffer from a lack of adequate internet access and not being able to received the benefits of school-based health care.

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