COVID case counts dwindle in Wallenpaupack Area School District

At the time of the April 11 Wallenpaupack School Board meeting, both Wayne and Pike Counties were at the lowest stage of community transmission of COVID-19. Superintendent Keith Gunuskey, who included this in his report to the board, announced that since the prior school board meeting a month before, there have only been five positive cases among students or staff.

Gunuskey said this contrasts with his March 14 report when he said there had been 44 positive COVID-19 cases within the district.

It is also a very far cry from last fall when as of October 11, the 24th day of school, there had been 42 positive COVID cases at Wallenpaupack.

"This is one of those things when no news is good news, I guess," Gunuskey said, "when we are looking at the COVID counts."

In the weeks of March 12 and March 19 there was one positive case reported each time, both at the Middle School, with three close contacts in each instance. In the week of March 26 there was one positive case with three close contacts at the High School, and two cases with six close contacts at the Middle School.

"And (the week of April 2-8), zero cases, zero close contacts," Gunuskey said. "It is certainly moving in the right direction." Gunuskey later stated that it was the first time in his records that the district had zero cases and close contacts since November of 2020.

Since the April 11 board meeting, there were four additional positive cases within the district as of April 21, Gunuskey said.

Data is updated every Thursday. As of April 21, community transmission levels were still in the lowest categoy, "green" for Wayne, Pike, Monroe, Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties. Susquehanna County was raised from "yellow" to "orange" meaning high level of transmission.

Further moving towards normal functioning at the district, he said Middle School lockers are back in use; cafeterias are open; small group learning sessions and open houses are being held and plans are underway for high school graduation on January 17 under the normal format.

"As far as community transmission levels, both Wayne and Pike Counties continue in the Green Phase, the low phase— all of the metrics are up there," Gunuskey said. "That is where we want to be."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on their website, has a tool to check the COVID-19 community level based on hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area. Levels are ranked as low, medium and high. Both Pike and Wayne County are given as "low" and indicated by the color green. Monroe, Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties are also in the green category; Susquehanna County, however, is at the medium ranking, or "yellow."

Meanwhile, he said the district is keeping watch of the Omicron subvariant of COVID-19, which is being experienced in growing case numbers in some parts of the country. "We are hoping it doesn't come here, but we are finding that based on the hospital (Wayne Memorial Hospital) it is certainly less virulent than the initial virus."

The district has an ample supply of COVID test kits, he said, which are working well if parents ask that their child be tested. The school nurses are reporting that there is no transmission occurring and most of the tests administered are coming back negative, he stated.

"Things are looking very positive on the COVID front," Gunuskey said.

During public comment, Blair Buselli and his wife Aurora Buselli spoke. They were among others who have addressed the board several times over the last several months over concerns with school policy on requiring wearing of face masks or the question if the state would ever mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for children (which has not happened).

Buselli thanked the board for finally making a statement at the March meeting about COVID-related policies. The statement made clear that the school board was mandated to follow requirements handed down by the state. Buselli replied at the April meeting that in his view the school board is elected to represent the taxpayers.

He added that he did not wish to be remembered as someone who always addressed the school board to complain but instead offered a prayer for the school district. Buselli lamented the fact that the district had discontinued scheduling prayer, which until the change occurred in 2013, was held at high school graduation by local clergy, at the start of board meetings.

Aurora asked that the district offer an online Zoom option for the public to attend school board meetings virtually. She noted given the size of the district, it is hard for some parents of Wallenpaupack students to arrange to attend in person. Public comment was limited to Zoom during the course of the COVID pandemic, until the March 2022 meeting.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 9 at 6 p.m. in the high school library. A committee meeting precedes it at 5:30 p.m.

This article originally appeared on Tri-County Independent: Wallenpaupack school district COVID cases continue to decline in April