VUSD confirms two COVID cases at one school

Two classrooms at Annie R. Mitchell are on quarantine this week but are unrelated, district officials say

VISALIA – Two classrooms at the same elementary school were quarantined last week, but district officials say it was not an outbreak.

Visalia Unified School District notified parents on consecutive days that at least one person had tested positive for COVID-19 in a classroom at Annie R. Mitchell Elementary on Jan. 20 and one in another class at the K-6 grade campus on Jan. 21. An electronic message was sent to parents after both cases notifying them students and teachers in those classes would not return to in-person instruction for two weeks.

“Exercising an abundance of caution, the students and staff who were in close contact with the COVID-19 positive individual have been notified and placed on quarantine to reduce possible further transmission of COVID-19 in our school,” the community alert stated. “Annie R. Mitchell will remain open. If you were not contacted individually by the school nurse, your child does not have to quarantine at this time.”

Superintendent Tamara Ravalin said both cases were contracted off campus and that no one else in either class reported having any COVID-related symptoms, according to contact tracing conducted by school nurses on site and at the district office. Ravalin also mentioned scientific studies both in the U.S. and abroad have shown that schools have very low transmission rates when they follow public health protocols.

“We have not had any transmission occur at the schools, according to our contact tracing,” Ravalin said.

Kim Batty, spokesperson for VUSD, said there have been 15 classes quarantined since preschool through second grade students resumed in-person instruction on Dec. 7. Grades 3-4 returned last week. Targeted groups of students, such as special education, foster care and homeless youth, returned to school in early October. She also confirmed that no schools had reached the 25% threshold of cases triggering the shut down of an entire school site.

Batty said nearly every positive test has been a parent calling the school to notify the campus their child has symptoms related to COVID before coming to school and even before they have tested positive for COVID. Once the school is notified a child has symptoms, the student or teacher is required to quarantine for two weeks. If it is confirmed the student or teacher has contracted COVID, the entire class goes into quarantine for two weeks. During that time, the students’ will keep the same teacher in distance learning unless the teacher is too sick to work. In those instances, a substitute teacher will handle distance learning classes until the students return to class.

Ravalin said the district has not been surprised by the number of classrooms to quarantine given the high case rate in Visalia and Tulare County. As of press time, Tulare County’s new case rate per day was 65 per 100,000 people. She also reminded residents the case rate for schools right now is less than 1 per 100,000 people as VUSD collectively has about 6,000 students back on its campuses.

“This ‘popcorn pattern’ of transmission will continue as long as community transmission is high,” Ravalin said. “But our schools remain a safe place for students and staff.”

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