Schools try to ‘stay the course’: COVID-19 cases increase on DOE campuses statewide

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Coronavirus cases are climbing on school campuses across the state.

More than 50 cases of COVID-19 were reported in schools and administrative offices on Big Island from August 7 to 13, the first full week most students returned to campuses.

They were among 325 reported statewide by the state’s Education Department on Friday.

“The total number of cases is higher this week, but given the size of our organization – over 200,000 students and staff across the department – and the level of transmission occurring in the wider community, I think this speaks to the safety protocol of our schools. that we’ve seen 70 confirmed cases over the past week that have impacted a HIDOE campus, ”Acting State Superintendent Keith Hayashi said in a press release Friday afternoon. “While ideally we wouldn’t want any cases, it’s important to commend our schools for working diligently to minimize exposure and prevent the spread of COVID by applying basic essential strategies, including immunization promotion for all those who are eligible. “

Of the cases reported on Big Island campuses, four were in Waiakea High School.

Principal Kelcy Koga said it was inevitable that the school would have cases of the coronavirus, “and it happened.” He believes the number of cases will increase over time, but not necessarily because of the exposure on campus.

“We try as much as possible for all children to follow the mitigation requirements, but people come into contact with each other and not everyone is vaccinated. It’s inevitable (to happen).

According to Koga, the four cases at Waiakea High were isolated cases originating outside of campus. He was not aware of any instances in which students or employees infected each other.

No additional students or professors had to be quarantined due to the cases identified.

“It doesn’t always start or end on campus. It can come from outside, ”he said. “… All we can do is stay the course and try to ensure some sense of social distancing, of cleaning and sanitizing, of hand washing.” “

But with an “alarming” number of COVID cases statewide – an increase brought on by the highly transmissible Delta variant – Koga said he believed it was getting to the point where the DOE “may need to look into remote learning or temporarily close to retrieve the digits. down.”

While the state created a distance learning program that a handful of students have officially participated in, Koga said at least 90% of students at his school have taken classes in person.

“I know that for most students, they want to be in school and they want to be here,” he said. “Nothing really replaces face-to-face learning. But a temporary stop could be the answer to bring the numbers down. “

Ka’u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area Superintendent Chad Keone Farias said he was not surprised to see cases in schools, but was proud of the schools for the implementation their mitigation strategies.

But this is not enough.

“I think we need a higher vaccination rate in our community and (I) also look forward to the opportunity to offer the vaccine to our younger students. Then I think our mitigation strategies will be sufficient.

Farias said it was difficult to determine where the cases were coming from in the complex area, but at the moment they don’t see multiple cases in a particular classroom.

“I am absolutely delighted that the students are back,” he said.

“We’ve been back to some extent since January, (but) I’m alarmed that our community’s numbers continue to rise. … I am begging our community to do what they have to do, especially so that our children can continue to go to school.

Dr Lauren Stuart, a pediatrician who herself has two elementary-age children, said she was comfortable with the students returning to school.

“I think the risk of another year of inadequate distance learning is greater than the risk of in-person learning during this epidemic,” she said.

If the number of reported cases statewide on campuses is broken down by school, Stuart said the numbers are indicative of community spread rather than school spread.

“So the schools are implementing the mitigation strategies – masking, distancing as much as possible, ventilation… and at this point it looks like those strategies are working because we don’t see clusters coming from the schools. “

Stuart said the emotional and psychological detriment of not being in school is “huge,” but physical impacts – including weight gain, less activity, more screen time and higher blood pressure. high rates of obesity and risk of type 2 diabetes – are also observed. .

Email Stephanie Salmons at [email protected]


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