Area schools responding to rising COVID case numbers with virtual learning, mask mandates

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EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- The North Posey and Mount Vernon school districts announced the closure of its facilities through Wednesday amid continued spread of COVID-19.

Warrick County returned to a mask mandate in all of its schools countywide this week. Warrick schools have been operating with masks required on a school-by-school basis.

The Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. is maintaining for now its district-wide mask mandate and other measures designed to keep in-person learning viable for students, but the district has not gone unaffected.

"We're a countywide school district so we are going to tend to mimic the trends you are seeing throughout the rest of the county," said Jason Woebkenberg, EVSC spokesman. "We have seen an increasing number of absences that are COVID-related."

He said EVSC is paying substitute teachers a $40 daily supplement as a way of encouraging them to continue working and to show appreciation.

Substitutes have been vital in helping EVSC schools cover educator absences throughout the pandemic, Woebkenberg said.

Deaconess Hospital reported Monday that 183 COVID patients were hospitalized at its facilities. That is a more than 23 percent increase from its last update of 148 COVID hospitalizations.

North Posey Superintendent Michael Galvin said Monday that with the increasing number of students out from COVID by late last week, that three days of virtual learning added to the weekend would correspond to the CDC's recommended five-day quarantine period. After that there will be a reassessment.

"We're hoping that five days will allow it to slow down," he said.

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In a video posted to social media Saturday, Galvin said nearly 200 of the school system's students were in quarantine on Friday, the largest number to date. Galvin also cited sickness-related absences among staff members as a reason to close.

Galvin said Mount Vernon school officials and the Posey County Health Department were consulted about the decision.

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Students will take part in e-learning activities with their teachers during the three-day period, Galvin said in the video.

"We encourage parents to please keep your children at home and do not allow them to gather in large groups over the three days, causing further spread of the virus over the three days," Galvin said.

A post on the Mount Vernon district's Facebook page says the temporary move to virtual learning is "due to the rapid spread and increase in positive COVID cases, quarantines, and other illnesses in students and staff."

Mount Vernon's post concluded: "When we return to in person learning on Thursday and going forward, please keep your child at home when sick, or if there is someone in the household getting tested for COVID."

Todd Lambert, superintendent of the Warrick County School Corporation, said the district has seen a rise in student and staff positive case numbers and quarantines as Warrick County case numbers have surged.

"We feel like the best course is to have masks on in every one of our locations," he said.

Lambert said by the end of last week all but one of Warrick's 18 schools hit the district's "circuit breaker" threshold for a mask mandate. Those numbers are 2 percent positive cases in students and staff or 5 percent in quarantine.

Lambert said he was encouraged that Monday's numbers were not as high as anticipated going into the school week.

Evansville Teachers Association President Lori Young said she has noticed the number of teachers and students absent due to quarantines has increased. She said teachers are supportive of continuing face-to-face learning with mask wearing and other measures in place.

Woebkenberg said EVSC has been striving to cover bus routes and has even been sending its central office employees out to fill in at schools where necessary due to COVID-related staff absences.

"We know there have been many cases of districts throughout the state that have had to go to virtual (teaching) coverage because of staff absences. We just have not elevated to that level yet," he said. "Hopefully, the numbers will peak soon and begin to decline."

This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: COVID numbers send North Posey schools to virtual learning days

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