What if there’s an outbreak at IWA?

Published 6:31 pm Friday, September 11, 2020

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A private school in Chesapeake that in pre-pandemic days often played Isle of Wight Academy in high school sports closed Tuesday for deep cleaning after two individuals tested positive for COVID-19.

But the chances of a similar outbreak happening at IWA are nearly impossible to predict, according to Western Tidewater Health District Director Dr. Todd Wagner.

Currently, the district has seen 17 outbreaks, defined as two or more cases at a single facility, since the pandemic began. None are at educational facilities.

“I do believe that the schools, both public and private, have taken very significant precautions to work to ensure the safety of their students and faculty,” Wagner said. “Obviously, more potential contact in person can increase your risk of transmission, but if the precautions they have put in place — physical barriers, masking, social distancing, disinfection, etc. — are followed, that risk is lowered. Not to zero, but much lower.”

The college-prep academy, located across the street from Isle of Wight County’s government complex on Courthouse Highway, brought its teachers and 637 students back to campus on Aug. 31 for in-person instruction five days a week. Precautions IWA has taken include capping buses at one-third capacity, capping most classes at 18 students, multiple temperature checks each day for students, mandating face masks and directing foot traffic to ensure all students stay at least six feet apart. Most fall sports are also on hold.

In the event a student does show symptoms of illness while on campus, the school has created an isolation room where they are to wait for their parents to pick them up.

“We will follow the directions of the WTHD in regards to any student or teacher testing positive or being forced to quarantine,” said IWA Headmaster Mark Munford.

As to what those directions might be, Wagner said a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a student or staff member at a private or public school would initiate the same process, this being an investigation to identify who has had close contact with the infected individual. Once identified, the infected individual would be told to self-isolate, and those exposed to that person would be told to self-quarantine. According to the health department’s website, people infected with the novel coronavirus who never develop COVID-19 symptoms may discontinue isolation and other precautions 10 days after the date of their first positive test. Most who do show symptoms can also discontinue isolation after 10 days provided that symptoms have improved and they’ve gone at least 24 hours without a fever, not using fever-reducing medications. A limited number of people with severe illness may produce replication-competent viruses beyond 10 days, which may warrant extending the duration of isolation for up to 20 days after showing symptoms.

“Schools have been provided an algorithm to assist in those decision timelines,” Wagner said.

But the authority to close an entire school and the responsibility of notifying families, he said, rests with each school’s or school district’s administration, not the health department. The health department isn’t planning to release case totals for specific schools to the public like it’s been doing for long-term care facilities.

“There is no current plan from VDH or at the health district level, that I am aware of, to report outbreaks of cases at any schools, public or private, by location or facility,” Wagner said.