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'We're going to reach a tipping point': Lynchburg-area schools report highest weekly COVID-19 case count to date
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'We're going to reach a tipping point': Lynchburg-area schools report highest weekly COVID-19 case count to date

COVID-19 cases in Lynchburg-area schools are rising to levels never seen before locally.

This week, Lynchburg City Schools and public schools in the counties of Amherst, Bedford and Nelson together reported 137 new positive cases of COVID-19 in their schools and facilities. Area school divisions last saw a one-week total of more than 100 new cases in January, following winter break.

This week’s count is higher than any one-week total during the 2020-21 school year for area schools.

Together, those four divisions have reported 209 positive cases of COVID-19 since this school year began. Campbell County Public Schools currently is not reporting cases publicly.

Lynchburg City Schools reported 16 new cases of the virus this week and quarantined 181 of its students and staff due to possible exposure.

The division also saw its first COVID-19-related school closure this week, when Linkhorne Elementary School announced it would move to remote-only instruction Friday and Monday.

LCS has reported 34 total cases of the virus since the beginning of the month.

Bedford County Public Schools reported 47 new cases of COVID-19 this week. The division has seen 90 total cases of the virus in just more than two weeks of school.

In an interview Friday with The News & Advance, BCPS Superintendent Marc Bergin said hundreds of students and staff members are in quarantine due to potential exposure.

Seeing those numbers just more than two weeks into the school year, Bergin said the number of cases isn’t the only thing that’s growing.

“My concern is growing,” he said.

While the division is not seeing school-based transmission — thanks to mitigation measures that are in place — he fears the division might not be able to adequately staff its schools and continue offering in-person instruction all week if the number of positive cases among students and staff, and related quarantines, continue to rise.

“I’m very concerned about how long can we maintain five days a week in-person instruction and fully operating extracurricular activities if we don’t get ahead of this,” Bergin said.

Bergin said this concern isn’t limited to BCPS, and other school divisions in the area are facing the same issues.

“We’re all facing the same concerns, which is: rising number of cases in our schools, rising number of quarantines in our schools and increasing concern with being able to staff our buildings on a day-to-day basis, and we’re going to reach a tipping point,” he said. “We’re going to reach a tipping point where we’re not going to be able to stay open for in-person instruction.”

Amherst County Public Schools closed four of its 10 school buildings this week due to rising COVID-19 cases.

The division reported 69 positive cases of COVID-19 this week. Friday’s count alone was 24 — a one-day record for the school division, according to a message sent to parents.

During the 2020-21 school year, the division reported a total of 122 positive cases of the virus. Just eight school days after students returned for the 2021-22 school year, the division’s positive case count already is up to 77.

Nelson County Public Schools reported five new cases of COVID-19 this week, bringing its total for the school year to eight.

As of Friday afternoon, Lynchburg-area colleges reported 170 active cases among their communities.

Liberty University, which announced it will enact a two-week, campus-wide quarantine beginning Monday, reported its highest rate of COVID-19 on campus to date.

Among students, faculty and staff, the university had 159 known active cases as of Wednesday, according to LU’s online COVID-19 dashboard. In addition, nearly 500 members of the university community were in quarantine due to potential exposure.

Fall classes began Monday.

The University of Lynchburg reported six active cases Friday — four among students and two among faculty and staff.

Randolph College reported one active case of the virus in an employee and Sweet Briar College in Amherst County reported one active case in its student body Friday.

Central Virginia Community College, which began fall classes this week, reported three cases of the virus in its student body this week.

As of Friday, Virginia has reported 754,652 cumulative cases of COVID-19 — an increase of 3,520 since Thursday, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

On Friday, VDH reported 33,344 COVID-19-related hospitalizations and 11,769 COVID-19-related deaths in the state since the pandemic began in March 2020.

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Education reporter

Cross covers K-12 and higher education for The News & Advance. An Asheboro, North Carolina native, Cross joined The News & Advance team in January 2020 after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism.

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