School district employee dies, 27 have tested positive

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – A veteran Fayette County Public Schools employee has died from the coronavirus.

And the case has given the school district an opportunity to discuss at length how it is handling cases.

“We are grieved by the loss of Eugenia Weathers, who has been a member of our transportation team for 17 years,” Transportation Director Marcus Dobbs said, confirming the weekend death.

“Eugenia was one of our relief drivers, so by the nature of her work, she was very flexible and approached every situation with a positive attitude. She had a great disposition and personality, a wonderful sense of humor, and the rare ability to find joy in everyday life,” Dobbs added.

Of the district’s 630 transportation employees, 19 have tested positive for COVID-19. Two work at the Liberty Road garage and 17 work at the Miles Point garage, according to the district.

Overall, of the district’s 9,057 employees, 27 staff members who have tested positive for the virus, according to the district.

“Facing the rapidly changing landscape of a virus that we learn more about each day, we have made the best possible decisions based on the available information,” explained district Chief Operating Officer Myron Thompson.

“The Health Department has contacted district officials each time an FCPS employee has tested positive for COVID-19. After completing their contact tracing and patient interviews, health officials have identified any employee with an elevated risk of exposure. The district has, in turn, made contact with each of those employees on behalf of the Health Department to explain the situation and ask them to quarantine for 14 days. We have then taken the additional steps of notifying all staff members and families at that location, even though the health department advised that there was no elevated risk,” Thompson continued.

“On Monday, March 23, we learned that a transportation employee who was not directly involved with the delivery of meals to children and had a separate workspace with very limited exposure to others tested positive. We notified the only other employee identified to have an elevated risk, sent the employee home to self-quarantine, and shared information about the positive test widely with transportation employees and the public.

“On Wednesday, March 25, a transportation employee who was part of the meal delivery service tested positive. We immediately halted the school bus delivery of meals and notified staff and community about employee’s diagnosis,” he continued, explaining the district’s processes.

“Although we recognized the incredible public health benefit of feeding children who depend on our cafeterias for food, at no time were transportation employees required to report to work after March 13, 2020, the last day students were on campus. In fact, a written memo given to all transportation employees on March 13 says in bold, underline, “You have the option to work next week or not.”

“Fayette County Public Schools is an urban school district in which 6 out of 10 children qualify for free meals through the federal child nutrition program. The plan to address food insecurity by delivering meals to bus stops throughout our most vulnerable neighborhoods was completely reliant on employees in our transportation and food service departments volunteering to work.

“We implemented several measures to encourage good hygiene and social distancing at both bus garages, including making additional hand sanitizer and gloves available, switching to paper time sheets to keep employees from touching time clocks, and repeatedly asking employees not to congregate in the common areas of the bus garage. Those reporting to work early or waiting between bus runs were directed to move to their cars or sit apart on school busses. These steps were outlined in written memos and emails, and emphasized verbally. When employees continued to gather in the break room, we removed the chairs and folded up the tables,” Thompson stated.

“Our transportation team is a close-knit community, with many connections outside of the workplace. We have multiple members of several families who work for us, including brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and cousins. Some of our employees carpool to work and many socialize outside of work.

“Each time the Health Department alerted the district to a case, we called the close contacts and instructed them to self-quarantine. After conferring with the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department last week, we took the added step on Friday of personally calling every transportation employee from the Miles Point bus garage and providing guidance to self-quarantine.

“Out of our 630 transportation employees, 19 have tested positive for COVID-19. Two who work at the Liberty Road garage and 17 who work at the Miles Point garage. We are praying for their recovery and heartbroken to have lost one of our amazing staff members,” Thompson stated.

“All but essential employees have been instructed to work remotely and we are taking all steps possible to reduce the number of times any staff members have to be on campus or interact with the public,” Thompson stated.

“As a Kentuckian, I am concerned about every single person in our community who is fighting COVID-19. As a school board member, I am especially concerned about the health and well-being of every employee in our district, regardless of where they work. We mourn the loss of a wonderful individual and pray for healing of everyone else battling this virus,” added Board Chairwoman Stephanie Spires.

“Employees on the front lines in every profession are heroes for being willing to leave their homes to serve others. The district took all recommended precautions to protect its employees and it is tragic that one of them has died, but COVID-19 is incredibly contagious and we all share responsibility in stopping the spread,” Spires added.

“FCPS is a learning organization with a commitment to continuous improvement. We are in a constant cycle of reflection and revision and will certainly examine all facets of our response to this unprecedented challenge and continue to refine and improve our work. As more information becomes available from medical experts, every entity including state and local government is making adjustments. Employers are operating with the best available information at that time because this is a fluid and evolving situation. There are things each of us are doing today, precautions we are now taking that we didn’t know to take before. A month ago, experts told the general public not to wear masks. Today that advice has changed. That’s the nature of a pandemic,” she stated.

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