Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ COVID-19 numbers continue decline

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 9, 2021

SALISBURY — COVID-19 numbers in Rowan-Salisbury Schools are continuing to improve after a peak about a month ago.

On Monday, the district reported 23 active cases of COVID-19, including 13 students and 10 staff.

A week ago, the district reported a total of 33 active cases. On Jan. 12, the district reported 35 active cases in staff alone. The staff figures include all staff, teachers and otherwise. Even during the peak of new infections, the state recorded no clusters in the district. Clusters are defined as five or more cases linked to each other.

There were eight cases reported last week at Salisbury High School last week, more than double the number of new cases recorded at any other school, but there was still no cluster designation from the state.

On Monday, Associate Superintendent Kelly Withers spoke to the Board of Education about the latest figures. Withers said the numbers show a major improvement in cases in a district that was concerned about being able to keep doors open at schools due to widespread staff quarantines coming off the winter holidays.

Assistant Superintendent of Transformation Andrew Smith told the Post the numbers are heading in the right direction and, while they are fluid day to day, they continue to trend downward.

As of Friday, 52 staff members and 589 students are in quarantine or isolation. The staff quarantines have trended down, but student quarantines have remained steady. Someone who is quarantined one day may be cleared the next. Students who are out of school due to illness and counted in that number may be cleared because they have contracted something else causing flu-like symptoms.

Board member Jean Kennedy commended the district’s work attempting to secure vaccines for the district and questioned the state classification not designating teachers as essential workers.

In a staff survey with more than 2,000 responses, 51% of responding employees indicated they want to be vaccinated, 21% are undecided and 28% do not. Withers said the district is working with local officials and Novant Health to actively secure vaccines needed for district staff.

Board member Travis Allen asked if the district had a plan to eventually return students to classes full time. Allen said the district should be talking about more than maintaining what it is doing with the declining number of infections.

Currently Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders allow public school districts to return K-5 students to schools full time, but middle and high school grades are still limited to plan B — a mixed calendar.

Superintendent Tony Watlington said administration can bring some thoughts on bringing students back full time to an upcoming meeting. Watlington said something the district needs to consider is getting teachers moved up in priority according to the state’s vaccine rollout and ensuring teachers have appropriate personal protective equipment.

Board member Jean Kennedy said she has been bothered, since the pandemic began, that district staff have not been classified as essential workers.

“Who is more essential than an individual who works with our most precious resources?” Kennedy said.

Watlington noted some districts already have elementary students in classrooms according to plan A. Board member Brian Hightower, who teaches in an Iredell County elementary school in plan A, said noted his own experience with only a handful of absences impacting students and faculty in schools.