UPDATE: Fayette slips back to ‘orange,’ Leslie, Clay, Estill, Knox, Whitley ‘red’

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UPDATE, POSTED 5:50 P.M. FRIDAY, SEPT. 25, 2020

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Just as the Fayette County School Board was starting to weigh the tough decision of further delaying in-person teaching, new numbers pushed the county’s incidence rate under the ‘red’ 25 mark to orange, potentially signifying further improvement in the county’s coronavirus cases spread.

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More numbers will come out during the weekend and even Monday before the board meets to make a decision on how to proceed with classes and when.

Friday afternoon, the county’s rate dropped 24.8 after slipping above 25 earlier in the week.

School leaders had been (see story below) considering a hybrid plan that mixed some in-person and online when the county was in ‘orange.’ If it stays there, school leaders may recommend that plan.

If it goes back into red, in-person could be delayed.

FCPS Superintendent Manny Caulk sent a letter to parents Friday night about adhering to new state guidelines reporting students who test positive for COVID-19 and who are in quarantine.

Here is the letter below:

Dear Fayette County Public Schools Families:

Our Fayette County Board of Education met this morning with experts from the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department and University of Kentucky to learn more about the incidents of COVID-19 in our community. Attached to this email are the PPT presentations they shared. A video of the meeting is available to view here on the district’s Facebook page.

Before I get into the substance of our meeting this morning, I have to share an important announcement:

A new emergency order from the state requires that beginning Monday, September 28, all families must report if their child tests positive for COVID-19 within 24 hours of receiving the test results. The district is then required to report our number of positive cases and number of quarantines to the state, regardless of whether we are learning virtually or back on campus.

To make things easier for families, we have established a COVID-19 reporting team to collect all information confidentially and ensure accurate and transparent reporting. If your child tests positive for COVID-19, all you have to do is dial 859-381-FCPS (3277), email your name and phone number to covid19@fayette.kyschools.us, or fill out the online form at www.fcps.net/covid19. Our reporting team will take it from there.

Now, for more about this morning’s board meeting:

After sharing general information about COVID-19 in school-aged children, Lexington-Fayette County Commissioner of Health Dr. Kraig Humbaugh reviewed the numbers of new cases in Fayette County, trends for different community demographics, hospitalizations, and percentages of asymptomatic individuals vs. patients with symptoms. He attributed the county’s “red designation” to the occurrence of COVID-19 among University of Kentucky students, and showed that the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases reported in Fayette County had plateaued at between 10 and 15 cases since mid-August after a steady incline from mid-June through August 4.

Humbaugh said Fayette County was unlikely to move to the yellow designation as long as cases at the University of Kentucky continued at current rates. He explained that Fayette County is unique because UK students comprise roughly 10 percent of our population and UK is doing such an excellent job of testing and tracing COVID-19 cases. Other college communities are larger so the impact of college cases are diluted, or colleges are not conducting such comprehensive testing.

Following his remarks, we heard from Lance Poston, Co-Project Director of the UK Health Corps, Bob DiPaola, Dean of the UK College of Medicine and Team Lead of the UK START Team, and Todd Brann, Executive Director, Institutional Research, Analytics and Decision Support. They reviewed UK’s COVID-19 response, which includes extensive screening, testing, contact tracing, and isolation efforts.

Since UK began on-site testing, they have conducted more than 31,000 tests with roughly 1,300 positive results. They have less than 500 active cases among the 25,000 students physically coming to campus, the seven-day new case average for the week of Sept. 14 is lower than the previous week, and the current active positive case count is similar to the prior week of Aug. 31.

Also noteworthy, their contact tracing has determined that students testing positive have had little impact on those outside the UK community. In fact, they stated, “exposures among members outside of the university community (not UK students or employees) who live in Fayette County represent only 5.5% of total exposures in our system.”

After hearing from our partners, I explained the state’s new recommended guidance for school reopening. According to their “COVID-19 Mode of Instruction Metrics for K-12 Education chart,” school districts in counties with a red designation on the incidence map as of Thursday at 8 p.m. should offer “remote learning only” and:

  • Essential staff entering facility, must practice best health practices for social distancing, mask use, handwashing, and sanitation as per Healthy At Schools Guidance on Safety Expectations and Best Practices for Kentucky Schools (K-12)
  • Suspend in person instruction activities until Yellow Level is achieved at a future weekly decision point
  • Activate remote learning
  • Continue essential student support services including meals, student engagement and special education service
  • Schools may at their own discretion bring small groups of students into the building to receive targeted services that supplements learning
  • Community must return to Yellow Level at future weekly checkpoint before resuming in person learning
  • Suspend all school-related athletic (per KHSAA guidance) and extracurricular activities

Given Dr. Humbaugh’s statement that Fayette County will unlikely receive a yellow rating as long as UK is in session, strict adherence to the state guidance would mean our schools would remain virtual for at least the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.

Our school district faces difficult decisions at our school board meeting on Monday, September 28. Our board meeting will be streamed live on Facebook, which is where you can also watch today’s meeting. Fayette County Public Schools employees and families are some of the most intelligent and actively engaged I have ever had the honor of serving. I hope you will review this information and join the conversation. To share your thoughts, please email feedback@fayette.kyschools.us and your comments will be directed to our board and me.

Thank you for your support and patience as we work together to do what’s best for students.

Your Partner,

Manny Caulk

Meanwhile, some other districts in the region have difficult choices.

Estill County remained in the red — 46.6 – where it has been and is sticking with online classes.

Leslie County slipped back into red from orange at 27.5 and is joined by Clay at 33.7, Whitley at 26.4, and Knox at 67.5.

While school districts had sought a system that came with flexibility to make decisions that fit local communities flexibility, the up and down nature of the coronavirus may frustrate some of them.

For instance, Leslie has been in and out of red this week, making it difficult for school administrators to make a decision and stick with it.

Parents also lament that learning on Friday what is happening on Monday is ot fair to them, students or teachers.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED 11 A.M. FRIDAY, SEPT. 25, 2020

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – If Fayette County schools follow the state guidelines for districts

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that fall into the so-called ‘red’ zone of high coronavirus rates, it might be months before it could begin in-person instruction, the school board was told Friday.

Meanwhile, while school leaders weigh options ahead of a board meeting Monday night, the district will launch its new reporting requirement Monday for parents and staff.
“But until we get to yellow, because we are red, you won’t be able to resume really any activities and it’s going to be very difficult and highly improbable based on the current practices for us to get to yellow,” school Superintendent Manny Caulk told board members near he end of a more than two-hour meeting Friday morning to review statistics from the county Health Department and the University of Kentucky.
A spike in coronavirus cases among UK students helped push Fayette County into the ‘red’ category with a positivity rate above 25 percent. During Friday’s meeting, both the health department and UK officials explained that process, all the things both groups are doing to contain the virus in the community and what the UK numbers, in particular, could mean.
While the state doesn’t require districts in the ‘red’ to do only virtual instruction, its recommendations highly recommend that approach, along with a number of other steps.
Accompanying guidelines from the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, the governing body for sports and many extra-curricular activities, recommend districts in the ‘red’ cancel all sporting events and outside activities.
The guidelines also suggest school districts not return to in-person instruction until their rate drops two levels to yellow, which is an incidence rate under 10 percent.
The guidelines do allow districts to provide some limited, targeted in-person instruction for special groups. Caulk said deciding those groups raises another set of challenges as educators try to decide whether special needs, English as second language, gifted, or impoverished students fall into requiring or needing special services.
“Sixty percent of our students are impoverished,” Caulk noted.
“This is our current reality…it’s time to adapt the processes and address it and move on,” School Board member Darryl Love said of the decisions the board and school administrators face.
“We could be looking at remote learning until we get a vaccine,” Caulk added.
Before the county rose into the ‘red’ category this week, it had been in ‘orange’ and the district was preparing a modified hybrid system that included some in-person lerrning. A change in the numbers could make a return to that plan a possibility.
Since Aug. 24, the district has had 13 student athletes test positive for the coronavirus and no staff, James McMillen told the board.
As of Friday morning, the district has 39 students, including 31 on a volleyball team, in quarantine. Five coaches also are in quarantine.
The district had eight students as of Thursday until a member of the private school volleyball team tested positive and the district decided to quarantine the entire volleyball team that had played the other school.
“We have taken these serious steps out of a sheer abundance of caution,” Caulk told the board.
During its presentation, the UK staff said the university currently has less than 500 active coronavirus cases among students and the seven-day average of new cases — the positivity rate — for the eek of Sept. 14 was below the previous week and more in line with rates in late August before the spike started.
The numbers suggest the case numbers on campus could be leveling off if not declining slightly, which could be good news for the county’s overall rate.
The university also is using only 31 percent of its quarantine capacity and has implemented a number of special steps to help students who are isolated.
Meanwhile, the district will launch its coronavirus reporting system for parents and staff Sunday evening. State law already requires parents and schools to report cases of some illnesses, such as head lice, and a Sept. 14 directive added the coronavirus to the list.
The district in turn has to report the numbers daily to the state.
The district has set up a hotline — 859-381-3277 — for parents to call to report a positive test. Parents also can email a notification or report it online. The link will be on the district’s web site.
Cases reported via email or online will receive a call back from the district’s newly created call center to get the necessary information.
Rather than buildings its own web site for reporting, the district is linking to the existing state Web and will report the numbers there as required, staff member Myron Thompson told the board.
More than 350 people watched Friday’s virtual board meeting. Several parents asked via messaging what school will look like when and if in-person learning returns.
It’s an often-asked question, but the district can’t answer it yet.