Virginia third graders tested during their first, in-person school year after the pandemic
Virginia third graders experience their first, full in-person school year since the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted their learning in Kindergarten.
Josh Morgan, USA TODAY
Three school districts in the country have cancelled in-person learning this week as local officials report drastic drops in student and teacher attendance attributed to COVID-19 and other illnesses.
Two school districts in Kentucky announced in-person closures for this week, citing a rise in illness among staff and students. Magoffin County Schools said all schools will close Thursday and Friday due to widespread illness. School officials said attendance has been quite low in the past week, and a mixture of viruses, including COVID-19 and influenza, motivated the closure.
Lee County School District announced illness-related closures for Tuesday and Wednesday, and NTI days, or non-traditional instruction, for Thursday and Friday. Officials said there had been an increase in respiratory illnesses the last few days, and a significant drop in attendance motivated the closure.
Scott Lockard, public health director for the Kentucky River District Health Department, which serves Lee County and six others in eastern Kentucky, said that ever since the pandemic started, there has generally been a rise in illnesses when schools first go back into session as people return to large gatherings.
“There was a lot of illness in the county, and the absentee rate got up to the level where the school system felt it justified closing,” Lockard told USA TODAY.
So far, lab test data reported to the department in eastern Kentucky has confirmed positive COVID-19 results but no influenza cases. However, Lockard noted respiratory illnesses in general are a concern, as symptoms often overlap with COVID-19. Also, testing is not as readily available as it once was, and many people have turned to home tests, which means lab reports typically underscore the level of illness.
Runge Independent School District in southern Texas, which serves 195 students, announced a weeklong closure due to illnesses, ABC News reported. According to the district’s online COVID-19 tracker, ten of the district’s 43 staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday.
Where COVID-19 numbers stand in the country
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on cases is several weeks out of date and no longer tracks COVID-19 infections. Most Americans take at-home tests and don’t report results. However, more than a quarter of wastewater testing sites reported a large increase in virus levels over the past two weeks as of Monday.
So far, the CDC has reported a total of 1.1 million deaths and 6.3 million hospitalizations due to COVID-19. The agency noted a recent surge in both numbers, citing a 21.4% increase in deaths and a 21.6% increase in hospital admissions in the most recently available week of data.
Hospital admissions due to the coronavirus are also forecasted to climb in the following weeks, according to the CDC.
How to protect yourself
While some used to brag about battling through a flu to get to work, that’s no longer a badge of pride, Lockard said.
Social distancing and staying home when symptoms arise is a strong preventative measure, he added. Also, washing hands frequently, using hand sanitizer and covering coughs and sneezes are important steps to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 and other illnesses.
Lockard also recommended staying up to date on vaccines for COVID-19 and influenza. RSV vaccines are available for some populations as well.
Test scores reveal plunge in performance nationwide
Earlier this year, USA TODAY documented how chronic absenteeism is schools continued to strain learning, even after widespread pandemic-related closures ended. The battle with attendance comes as students face unique learning challenges after extended shutdowns.
Nearly all eighth graders in the nation fell behind in U.S. history and civics last year compared with 2018 on the National Assessment for Education Progress, also called the Nation’s Report Card, according to scores released in May. The country also saw reading and math performance plummet among fourth and eighth graders in the same year.