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'A wake-up call': Lynchburg school board member shares COVID-19 experience
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'A wake-up call': Lynchburg school board member shares COVID-19 experience

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When Lynchburg City School Board member Atul Gupta received his positive COVID-19 test result this week, he was frustrated.

“I escaped it for almost 10 months, and when the vaccine was here, I got it,” Gupta said. “It’s heartbreaking, that you were almost there and got it right at the tail end.”

Despite following COVID-19 safety precautions, such as wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance from those around him, Gupta was exposed to, and tested positive for, the virus.

“This was a wake-up call for me,” Gupta said.

Lynchburg City Schools said in a Monday news release that two individuals who were present at the Jan. 26 school board meeting had tested positive for COVID-19. LCS would not identify the two positive individuals or specify if they were board members, staff or members of the public.

During Tuesday’s school board meeting — which was held virtually as a safety precaution — Gupta identified himself as one of those individuals who had received a positive test. School board members Susan Morrison and Kimberly Sinha publicly stated they were tested for the virus and received negative results.

None of the remaining six members of the board stated whether or not they received a positive COVID-19 test.

Gupta said he is experiencing mild symptoms, such as a mild cough and headache, but the fear of possibly developing more severe symptoms is hard to cope with. Especially, he said, because he has underlying health conditions.

“It is scary for your family members, for your community, for your friends and for yourself,” Gupta said.

While Morrison and Sinha said their COVID-19 test results were negative, both said the experience was scary and caused even more isolation for their families.

Since he lives alone, Gupta said with going into quarantine and isolation he was worried about how he would get his meals and groceries. Luckily, members of the school board and other Lynchburg community members reached out and offered to help.

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“The love in this community always stands out,” Gupta said. “It’s the best place in the world to live just because of the type of community we have; it’s a very caring community.”

Gupta said his doctors, as well as Robert Brennan, vice chair of the school board and an infectious disease doctor, also have been extremely supportive during the past week, offering comfort and advice.

While the board has had mitigation strategies in place at its meetings and work sessions since the beginning of the pandemic — such as requiring masks for all attendees and rearranging seats to allow for six feet of physical distancing — the board has still held most of its meetings in person.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the board expressed agreement that it would allow a mix of virtual and in-person participation at future board meetings.

According to school board attorney Hope Townes, Lynchburg City Council adopted a continuance of government ordinance in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic that allows meetings of city council or other city authorities, boards and commissions — including the Lynchburg City School Board — to conduct meetings without members physically present in one location, such as a virtual meeting, as long as public access is arranged.

Brennan urged his fellow board members at Tuesday’s meeting to consider changing the location of the school board meetings to an even larger venue or holding them virtually for the time being.

While the board room at the school administration building is large enough to accommodate physical distancing among the board members, Brennan voiced concern about how long the meetings require members to sit in one room together. The board’s past four meetings have lasted approximately three to four hours each.

LCS Superintendent Crystal Edwards said the division will explore alternative locations, such as schools or city hall, for future school board meetings.

Latonya Brown, director of student services in the division, said LCS has implemented safety protocols at the school administration building and schools during the day to screen staff and students with temperature checks and a short questionnaire regarding symptoms and possible exposure before they enter the buildings. The board voted Tuesday in favor of implementing those protocols, in addition to its current protocols, at future board meetings.

“I wish it were there before I got infected,” Gupta said.

The next school board work session is scheduled for 5 p.m. Feb. 16 and, as of Wednesday, is set to be held in the board room at the school administration building.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. March 2.

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