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Update: Amherst schools going 'in right direction' with fewer COVID-19 numbers

Update: Amherst schools going 'in right direction' with fewer COVID-19 numbers

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Update: Amherst County Public Schools on Monday, Nov. 23 reported two new positive cases of COVID-19 with one each at Amelon Elementary School and Amherst County High School. Both schools remain open with tracing protocols in place. 

The division reported three cases of COVID-19 in three schools the week of Nov. 16 through Nov. 20. 

The schools announced positive cases at Amelon Elementary School, Monelison Middle School and Amherst County High School in two separate news releases. The three schools remain open as contact tracing procedures are in place. 

Amherst County last week surpassed the 700-mark in positive COVID-19 cases, according to the Virginia Department of Health's website. As of Nov. 23 the county has 733 cases, 30 hospitalizations and six deaths from the virus, according to VDH. 

Earlier: While the number of COVID- 19 cases continue to hover well above the 600-case mark in Amherst County, officials in the county’s school system said the trends have been positive over the past few weeks.

Amherst County Public Schools has had 35 cases of COVID-19 since Aug. 1, Assistant Superintendent William Wells said during the Amherst County School Board’s Nov. 12 meeting. In late October, he said, the division had 40 staff and 150 students quarantined with 6 positive cases and near the end of the first weeks of November had 13 staff and 40 students on quarantine with a single positive case.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Wells said.

All of the division’s cases have resulted from community spread, he added.

“We have yet to have a confirmed case of COVID-19 that has been transmitted in one of our facilities or buses,” Wells said.

“So based on this data, we believe our mitigation strategies have been effective and are keeping our students and staff safe.”

The school division kicked off its current school year Sept. 9, a month later than originally scheduled, under a hybrid system of in-person and remote learning. Students and staff in school facilities and on buses are required to wear face masks and maintain social distancing as part of the steps to mitigate the virus’s spread.

Wells said the division had to close a handful of classes at the elementary school level for a two-week period and a few classes have been quarantined. The number of discipline cases for the first seven weeks was at 22, way below the normal figure, and no instances are because students refused to wear face masks, according to Wells.

“They know that’s part of the requirement and have understood that,” Wells said of students abiding by the mask requirement while in school.

Superintendent Rob Arnold said the division’s COVID-19 numbers are encouraging considering recent spikes the month before and two events, Halloween and Election Day, which drew community gatherings. He urged the Amherst community to remain vigilant in mitigating against the spread of COVID-19 heading into the Thanksgiving holiday and said the division has plans in place in case the state orders another shutdown of schools, noting the division is doing all it can to have in-person learning available.

“Considering the time we’re in with this, I think we’re doing quite well,” Liggon said, later adding: “We can’t let our guard down.”

Amherst County had 678 cases as of Nov. 16 with 29 hospitalizations and six deaths, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

At the beginning of the school year the Amherst Remote Academy gradually grew each day as parents moved kids from face-to-face instruction to remote learning, said Dana Norman, director of academics.

At its peak the remote academy had about 1,700 students and is maintaining about just more than 1,500 students after some returned to in-person learning, she said.

Board member Christopher Terry, who reluctantly supported the face mask requirement in a 5-2 vote prior to the start of school, said it’s a decision he wasn’t 100% in favor of that has paid off.

“By doing it, we’ve made sure we’re not transmitting this virus,” Terry said, adding he is glad to see no discipline issues have arisen because it. “We’re not at the end of this and have a long road to go, but I think we’re going to get there.”

“We can’t help what happens outside of here,” board member David Cassise said of the community spread, “but we’re doing great within our own walls.”

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