CLARK COUNTY — Clark County moved to the red warning level this week due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the community, but local school districts plan to continue in-person learning.
Officials from Greater Clark County Schools, Clarksville Community Schools, Silver Creek School Corp. and Borden-Henryville School Corp. confirmed Thursday that they do not plan to complete further remote learning based on the change in the advisory level.
On Wednesday, the Indiana Department of Health updated its color-coded map to reflect the level of COVID-19 spread in counties across the state. While Clark County moved to the high-risk red advisory level, Floyd County stayed at orange, one level below red.
All Clark County school districts moved to remote learning Thursday due to the inclement weather. Starting Wednesday, River Valley Middle School in Jeffersonville moved to eLearning for the rest of the week based on the number of staff in quarantine.
All of the districts have mask mandates in place for students and staff.
Borden-Henryville Superintendent Johnny Budd said the level of COVID-19 spread is “something we’re keeping an eye on,” but the decision to move to eLearning would depend on the situation in the school district.
“It does bring to my attention that if the county numbers continue to rise, it only makes sense that we will see our numbers rise among our students and staff, and we’re keeping a close eye on it,” he said.
Borden-Henryville will also be completing a day of eLearning Friday due to the weather. As of now, the plan is to bring students back to in-person learning next week, Budd said.
“If over the weekend we get phone calls that we have multiple staff members and students that have gotten positive tests over the weekend, then we’ll make adjustments as necessary,” Budd said. “Right now, we hope to be in-person on Monday. Right now, we have a mask mandate, and we’re following guidelines for close contacts and quarantines.”
Scott Gardner, safety specialist for Clarksville Community Schools, told the News and Tribune Tuesday that the district’s goal is “to have in-person learning every day,” but staffing issues and a high number of quarantines could lead to remote learning.
Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said the county’s move to the red category is “not good news, but also not surprising” as the community faces the extremely infectious Omicron variant. He noted the recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shortens the period of time for isolation and quarantines in certain circumstances.
“I think that’s why we’re starting to see the CDC adjust their quarantine guidelines — I think it’s just hit such a large volume of people, that if we did see full quarantine period, you’d see interruptions to almost every business and school and those sort of things,” he said. “I think they did the minimum quarantine period you can get away with. Otherwise it would be in effect like a shutdown.”
Yazel, who works in the emergency room of Clark Memorial Health, said the hospital is “really tight” right now, and it is at full capacity. From his perspective, he is seeing high numbers of people in the ER waiting to get a bed in the intensive care unit or another level.
“We’ve just consistently seen somewhere between 10 to 15 ER beds full of patients waiting to go upstairs,” he said.
Even though the severity of Omicron is not as high as previous strains, the increased infectiousness means that they are seeing high hospitalization rates. Testing shortages have also hit at an “inopportune” time, he said.
He believes the next few weeks are going to be difficult for schools, including absences of students, teachers and staff due to quarantines. If schools have to go to eLearning, it will likely be based on what they are seeing specifically in that school or district, he said.
“If one school said OK, hey, we have all the teachers and support staff we need to maintain support — in that environment, I think it’s OK even in times of high community spread for school to continue,” Yazel said. “On the flip side, if a school said, we have X amount of kids out and they try to combine two or three classrooms to have enough teachers, that tells me they need to go virtual no matter what the community numbers are.”
Yazel continues to urge people to get vaccinated. He emphasizes that although the Omicron variant is leading to more breakthrough COVID-19 cases among the vaccinated, they tend to be mild cases, and the patients who are getting very sick are overwhelmingly those who are unvaccinated.
“If you don’t protect yourself, if you don’t get the vaccine, unfortunately your chances of getting sick are very high,” he said.
He expects that the community will “weather the storm” for a few more weeks before seeing a drop in COVID-19 numbers.
“I think things will be kind of bumpy from mid to late January, then it will pass,” he said. “We have to get used to the peaks and valleys for this, and hopefully the next time something new comes through, it will be a little less severe. Hopefully it will become more of a common nuisance than an intrusion in our daily lives.”