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No changes to Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ plan B when classes start back this week

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — COVID-19 infections among Rowan-Salisbury Schools staff and quarantine figures have remained remain low enough to reopen school buildings on Thursday, according to district administration.

Assistant Superintendent of Transformation Andrew Smith said the number of active staff COVID-19 infections is 42, nearly double the previous figure reported by the Post ahead of winter break, but the quarantine figure has only climbed slightly, from 111 to 123. Both are a small portion of the nearly 3,000 staff members in the district.

Isolations and quarantines are based on exposure, not just the number of people infected.

Wednesday is technically the first day of school after winter break, but it was already scheduled as a virtual day for all students. That means Thursday is the first day when students will be back in the classroom.

Smith said the district will be able to hold classes safely across the district. Interim Superintendent Kelly Withers consulted with board members about the issue on Monday.

Withers is serving as interim superintendent ahead of Tony Watlington taking of the position permanently. Former superintendent Lynn Moody retired on Friday.

The district surveyed staff on Monday so it could make a call for this week. Other districts, including Kannapolis City Schools, opted to begin the semester in plan C, or all virtual, anticipating a spike in infections.

Health officials have said there are spikes in cases expected 10 to 14 days after holidays.

The main challenge to keeping schools open is not the number of student in quarantine, but the number of staff. When there are too few staff available, it starts to become difficult to run facilities during the day.

Smith said all the precautions already in place, including masks, required social distancing, hand sanitizing, daily surveys and the two-cohort schedule will be unchanged, and the district will continue watching the numbers every day.

“We always have had to be super cognizant of that number,” Smith said.

The increase in infections is not contained within RSS. The state and country has been setting records for new infections and deaths due to COVID-19 almost daily for weeks. KCS saw similar increases in its own numbers over the course of the final weeks of the fall semester.

“I think we were all worried over the holiday season there may be a larger spike in COVID cases,” Smith said, adding the district is optimistic about the number of infections not being much higher than 42.

The county reported 138 new cases on Monday. The county plans to begin mass COVID-19 vaccination next week.

Moody said she was hopeful the pandemic would end and students could return to school full time before the end of the school year.

Catawba College and Livingstone College both adopted schedules that will bring students back to campus later than they would in a normal year in an effort to keep the infections that come back to campus low.

Catawba will return on Jan. 25 and Livingstone on Feb. 8.

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