COVID Spikes Here
“The number of people testing positive right now in the area is much higher than that of the delta surge… Saturday, Toombs, Montgomery, Appling, and Jeff Davis Counties had the highest number of infections they have seen yet throughout the two years of the pandemic.”
– Karen J. McColl MD
Montgomery, Toombs, and Wheeler counties are facing a spike in COVID cases as the omicron variant spreads across South Georgia. Memorial Health Meadows Hospital and local school systems are altering their normal practices and protocols in response to the trend.
According to Meadows Chief Medical Officer Karen McColl, the number of positive COVID tests within Toombs and Montgomery Counties is at an all-time high. “The continued from page
number of people testing positive right now in the area is much higher than that of the delta surge,” she explained. “Saturday, Toombs, Montgomery, Appling, and Jeff Davis Counties had the highest number of infections they have seen yet throughout the two years of the pandemic.”
McColl said 98% of the new cases are the new omicron variant of the virus, which is now attacking the hospital staff more than the past strands. “A major difference we have seen in this wave of the virus is that a lot of our own hospital staff is becoming sick and having to be absent,” she commented. “Luckily, within five days, they are usually well, but it is definitely a challenge.”
Meadows currently has 21 in-house patients with COVID, three of which are on ventilators. The hospital also has seen only three deaths from severe COVID in the past three weeks, a testament to the difference in the severity of the delta and omicron variants. Also, it is the individuals who have received their COVID vaccination boosters who have recovered at home from this illness. “We are seeing a lot of people who have been boosted not be hospitalized,” McColl noted. “There are some breakthrough infections, as there are with anything, but overall, those who are boosted are not as sick.”
McColl stated that there has been very little decline in the COVID numbers so far, but medical experts are hoping this week is the peak of infection within our area. Montgomery County Schools Crafting a response to the local spike in COVID cases was a hot topic at the Montgomery County Board of Education meeting on January 18, as Board members sought to both protect students and provide them with the best possible education.
As of Friday afternoon, the school system had 52 students that were COVID-positive, which constitutes 5.5% of the entire student population. Yet, because of these students exposing others to the illness, 162 of the 945 total students are quarantined. Eight of the 167 total staff members had tested positive for COVID, and 13 staff members were quarantined.
In their weekly report, the school system explained that the numbers were still rising when compared to prior weeks, but have slowed in pace. The school system released this statement: “While any COVID case is one too many, we are very glad to see that the increase is slight.”
At the Board meeting, Superintendent Stan Rentz said that school administration is doing everything possible to prevent students from transitioning to virtual learning, while also seeking the best possible decision for the school population’s health. “We are hoping to continue in-seat learning as much as possible,” he said. “Currently, although we have many bus drivers and other staff out, the coaches and other staff members have stepped up to fill in the gaps and help the school continue to function as normally as possible. As long as we are able to accomplish that and ensure student safety, we will remain open.”
The school system announced that administration is continuously reevaluating circumstances at the school and the COVID status and will make any necessary decisions based on those facts. In an effort to continue to ensure the health and wellbeing of the student population, Assistant Superintendent Beverly Faircloth sought a partnership with the Georgia Department of Public Health to provide free COVID testing to staff and students through the ELC Reopening Schools COVID-19 Testing program. This testing will be conducted on school grounds in a safely-distanced area during school hours, and will not be conducted without parental permission or student permission (if the student is over 18 years old). Faircloth commented on the new program. “The more staff and students who test, the quicker we are able to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” she noted. “Also, the test is painless and many times, the students can perform their own screening under the supervision of the lab technician.” She added, “We have yet to work out the logistics, but we will soon be communicating with parents the final plan and to request permission for students to be included in the program to test.”
Toombs County Schools
COVID has also been a hot topic at Toombs County Schools, not because of a rise in cases, but because of a rise in student success within these trying times. The school system is setting an example on how to help students excel during the pandemic, as test scores skyrocket.
During the 20202021 school year, all students exceeded their typical growth in reading, and met or exceeded their typical growth in math. In reading, students throughout the school system improved their typical growth by 141%, while their placement level improved 45% throughout the year. In math, students’ typical growth was improved by 135%, and their placement levels rose by 50%.
Academically, these levels were improved by the utilization of the i-Ready program for 30 minutes each school day. Yet, Curriculum Director Tonawanda Irie and School Improvement Specialist Brandon Hartley explain that it is the united spirit of the school that truly provides students with the best possible atmosphere for growth.
“Students excel when all stakeholders including district and school leaders, teachers, students, and parents, are on the same page and have accurate data and resources to address areas of weakness,” the pair emphasized. “The district and its schools are connected by a platform called i-Ready that not only provides actionable data, but also gives tools that enable teachers to target student needs at the moment they arise.”
The school district plans to continue this strategy for success as COVID spreads through the area, and hopes to continue to see educational growth in students throughout the remainder of the school year.
Vidalia City Schools
Administrators hope that the peak of absences in the Vidalia City School System has already occurred, as the school reviews attendance data and revises protocol to match that of the most recent CDC guidelines. The school issued the following statement regarding the effect of the current COVID spike in the area: “We have had our share of absences, but we hope to be over the worst of it.”
Vidalia Heritage Academy Vidalia Heritage Academy also has amended the school’s COVID protocol to match that of the CDC, as the absence time for positive cases has been decreased from ten days at home to five days at home and then five following days at school with mask usage. Students who have been exposed but show no symptoms may continue to attend school if they adhere to mask usage for five days. This five-day period is decreased from the previous ten-day mask requirement for all exposed.
As of Monday, six students are currently absent due to testing positive for COVID; meanwhile, two staff members and approximately ten other students are also absent for exposure because of their inability to wear masks.
Headmaster Jeff Mc-Cormick commented on the situation. “Last week was a very difficult week, as we had numerous staff out on any given day,” he explained. “We seem to have turned that tide already this week.” Wheeler County Schools
Wheeler County Schools continue to battle COVID challenges like their regional neighboring school systems, but continue to thrive. The school has seen very little change in the pandemic’s effect on absences, and continues to strongly encourage students to wear masks to slow the spread. Previously, the school followed a strict mask mandate, which required students to wear facial coverings inside every building on campus. The rule has since become an individual choice that each student and their family are able to decide for themselves.