An inordinate number of staff members and students at Kermit PK-8 having tested positive for COVID-19 during the last two weeks resulted in that school’s teachers working from home this week while the building could be thoroughly cleaned.

Students countywide remained in remote learning during this time due to Mingo County having been listed as orange on Saturday, Oct. 17, on the state’s school alert system.

Teachers at all the county’s other schools as usual reported to and instructed their students remotely from their respective buildings.

As of Tuesday, Oct. 20, there had been a total of 21 staff members and 11 students reported as confirmed positive cases within some Mingo County’s schools, according to Superintendent Don Spence.

Eight staff members and five students of these cases were confirmed at Kermit PK-8 alone.

As of presstime, Thursday, Oct. 22, however, no new cases had developed either at Kermit or at the county's other nine schools, also according to Spence.

“These cases are just the ones that have been confirmed positive,” Spence said. “This number does not include all the people who could be affected…you could have several people connected to just one positive case who already have or will end up quarantining for the 14-day period.

“I’m really hoping these numbers trend down (by Saturday, Oct. 24) and we will be able to reset on Monday (Oct. 26).”

According to the Mingo County Health Department, staff members and students at those Mingo County schools having been confirmed positive cases are currently either in isolation/quarantine or already have completed the required amount of time for doing so.

MCHD officials said on Saturday, Oct. 17, the county’s positivity rate was at 6.2 percent and the infection rate was at 34.15 percent based on the number of cases per 100,000 people.

For Mingo County, with a population of 23,000, health officials noted this averages to be eight cases a day per a 7-day average.

Although there have been cases confirmed at several of the county’s other schools, Mingo health and school officials said Kermit PK-8 has obviously experienced a disproportionate number of the total mainly due to a spike of overall cases on that side of the county.

Because of the number disparity at the school, MCHD officials explained, this week an additional precautionary step was taken to clean and sanitize the building in order to ideally reduce the chances of an already bad situation becoming worse.

As of this week the increased number of positive cases experienced at Kermit had not resulted in an outbreak declaration at the school, forcing its closure.

MCHD officials said this is mainly due to the criteria being used by the state to determine such a move for all West Virginia schools.

“The procedure for closing a school is a very complex algorithm that’s determined by the state, even though they say it’s basically left up to local health departments to make that call,” MCHD Administrator Keith Blankenship said earlier this week.

The gist of this specific metric, Blankenship said, stipulates that in order for an outbreak to be declared, resulting in the closure of any one school, there have two be two epidemically linked cases within the school.

He said an example of this would be if a school had a staff member or student linked to another person within a classroom, the infected person would automatically be isolated and the classroom and all other immediate contacts quarantined. The school’s additional classrooms would remain open.

However, if there was an additional, not necessarily connected but similar condition in another part of the school, the combined incidents would be the official definition of an in-house and not a community spread occurrence. In this instance it would then be considered by the state as an outbreak at the school requiring its closure.

“Even though we have the latitude to close a school if we feel the situation warrants it, the bottom line is the state wants schools not to be closed if at all possible, so we more or less have to go by their decision based on their metrics,” Blankenship said.

Additionally, Blankenship said state mandated increased testing in counties with orange or red designations intended to decrease positivity rates and increase negativity rates has thus far not been too fruitful in Mingo County.

He said testing events held on Oct. 9 in Delbarton and Oct. 10-11 at Matewan, as well as events again Oct. 12-16 at Mingo Central and Tug Valley high schools, actually raised Mingo’s positivity rate for those dates.

“We tested a total of 289 people during this eight-day period and we achieved a positivity rate of 7.6 percent, with 22 people out of the 289 testing positive,” he said. “So in those instances the increased testing didn’t help us very much at all.”

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