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COVID-19 cases slowing in Amherst schools, more paid sick leave approved
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COVID-19 cases slowing in Amherst schools, more paid sick leave approved

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The amount of COVID-19 cases in Amherst County Public Schools is leveling off, declining some from the high during the first several weeks of the new school year in late August and early September, according to school officials.

Assistant Superintendent William Wells told the Amherst County School Board on Oct. 14 the division is averaging two to three, sometimes five, cases per day and as of that evening had 117 students and 6 staff quarantined. The division had a dozen positive cases as of Oct. 14, 10 students and two staff, and cases are trending downward in Amherst as the county remains a high transmission area, Wells said.

“If we get two to three cases a day, we can manage that,” Wells said of the schools’ cases.

As of Oct. 17, the county had 4,252 positive cases and 55 deaths since the pandemic began, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s website.

Superintendent Rob Arnold said the division, as of Oct. 14, still hadn’t received official guidance on a federal mandate for employers of more than 100 people to have workers vaccinated or submit to weekly testing if they refuse. The division has been working with VDH to figure out how it would get testing administered through the Virginia School Screening Testing for Assurance (ViSSTA) program, which has contracted out with test providers, Arnold said.

Arnold told the board a caveat for resources from ViSSTA is to perform a random testing pool for students, which ACPS officials are not comfortable with. He said the measure of pool testing students is “not going to make COVID go away in our schools.”

“We’re not excited about the ViSSTA program at all but it sounds like the only resource we have,” Arnold said.

He said he’s spoken with VDH officials to find a way to make the program work for the school system.

“Everybody is fighting for the same resources and I think it’s going to be a real problem in Central Virginia,” Arnold said of the federal mandate’s effects on large area employers. “I think there’s a lot of unintended consequences from this mandate we’re going to have a hard time meeting.”

The board on Oct. 14 approved a measure that gives 20 days of additional paid emergency sick leave for employees if they are out of work for extended periods because of COVID-related reasons.

The division has budgeted $300,000 to cover such expenses and can go into federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) money if needed, according to the board’s discussion.

“We know there are people nervous about that and it will be beneficial in that regard,” of supporting employees, Jim Gallagher, the division’s chief human resources officer, said of the added paid emergency sick leave.

Board member Chris Terry publicly thanked the Amherst community for helping slow down COVID-19 numbers.

“Hopefully we’re headed in the right direction,” Terry said.

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