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*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article omitted Detroit ISD from the schools that have not had a reported case of Covid-19. It has been added.

As students in the Red River Valley returned to classes in recent weeks, Covid-19 followed.

As of Thursday, every district in the region, with the exception of Clarksville and Detroit, has at least one staff member or student out with the novel coronavirus. As of press time, it was not clear whether Rivercrest had reported a confirmed case.

Lamar County’s four school districts have active coronavirus cases as does Honey Grove ISD and Cooper ISD.

Honey Grove Superintendent Todd Morrison posted a letter Sept. 3 on the district’s website to report a high school student present at school part of the day was confirmed to have Covid-19.

Cooper Superintendent Denicia Hohenberger on Wednesday reported that a student on campus last week prior to showing symptoms tested positive for Covid-19.

“We notified all close contacts with a personal call, then notified the whole campus,” Hohenberger said, adding the district has canceled a football game Friday with Detroit.

As required by the Texas Education Agency and local health departments, districts are to report confirmed Covid-19 cases to parents of students deemed “close contacts” with the infected student or staff member, according to guidelines posted on each district’s website.

Most districts also are sending out some type of alert to inform the community while others are following the basic requirement of reporting the number of cases and the number recovered from the illness.

As of Friday, all confirmed cases are to be reported to the Texas Education Agency at the end of each week, according to an Aug. 27 Texas Tribune report.

Prairiland ISD first began reporting confirmed cases following four days of in-person instruction with a junior high staff member on Sept. 1 followed on Sept. 4 and Sept. 8 with additional staff and on Sept. 9 with two high school students and one at the junior high.

“We are doing contact tracing to make sure students that have had ‘close contact’ are quarantined as well,” Superintendent Jeff Ballard said. “Students wearing masks is a really important part of being able to move forward and not have a large number of ‘close contacts’ and be able to keep school open.”

In general, “close contacts” as described on most district websites as an understanding of a Texas Education Agency requirement is as follows:

• being directly exposed to infectious secretions (e.g., being coughed on); or

• being within 6 feet for a cumulative duration of 15 minutes; however, additional factors like case/contact masking (i.e., both the infectious individual and the potential close contact have been consistently and properly masked), ventilation, presence of dividers, and case symptomatology may affect this determination.

Ballard added that students or staff who test positive, as well as those deemed “close contacts” are required to quarantine for a minimum 14 days, depending on when they are symptom and fever free.

After two days of in-person classes, North Lamar reported two high school students testing positive along with two staff members. Homecoming will be postponed until Oct. 9, according to the district’s social media site.

“North Lamar is committed to transparency as we communicate during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Superintendent Kelli Stewart said shortly after noon Wednesday. “North Lamar has already launched a Covid-19 case count on our district website to keep our community updated on local cases connected to our district.”

Stewart explained districts receive regular updates and guidance from Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath and from local and state agencies regarding response, prevention and mitigation efforts.

“The guidance has changed repeatedly over the last several months and will continue to change based on Covid-19 conditions across our community and state,” Stewart said. “North Lamar ISD would like to thank our community for the incredible outpouring of support for our staff as we have planned for not only the challenges, but also the great rewards this school year will bring.”

Paris ISD Superintendent Paul Jones also weighed in on challenges as the district began in-person classes earlier this week. Paris is reporting a staff member out with Covid-19.

“While it is not possible to eliminate all risk of furthering the spread of Covid-19, the current science suggests there are many steps schools can take to significantly reduce the risks to students, teachers, staff, and their families,” Jones said.

He urges students and staff to screen daily for Covid-19 symptoms and to not attend school if feeling ill for any reason. Jones also recommends stepped up cleaning efforts on campuses, frequent hand washing and students cleaning work spaces before and after use when developmentally appropriate.

“Using these preventative practices should significantly reduce the likelihood that a coronavirus outbreak occurs on campus,” Jones said.

Chisum ISD Superintendent Tommy Chalaire, who reported two staff members with Covid-19, also emphasized the importance of cleaning and disinfecting.

“As we wind up our third successful week of school, we would like everyone to know that we are continuing to be very diligent in our efforts to keep our students and staff safe and at a low risk of having to be quarantined,” Chalaire said.

He noted the wearing of masks, clear partitions in use in the cafeterias at all three campuses, in computer labs and in elementary classrooms along with the use of 10 Clorox electro-static machines to disinfect classrooms daily and buses twice each day. Students and staff use disinfecting wipes before each class change to wipe down surfaces.

In addition, the district recently hired a third registered nurse so that all campuses have a nurse on staff.

“Our principals and nurses have met with our local health department in an effort to all be informed in practicing correct policies and procedures as recommended,” Chalaire said.

Paris-Lamar County Health Department is working closely with all districts in the county, according to director Gina Prestridge.

“Guidance comes from multiple sources, Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention), Texas Education Agency and the Health District,” Prestridge said. “Schools are all using similar guidance to screen for Covid-19 symptoms. If students present with or communicate to school staff that they are experiencing symptoms that meet the Covid-19 criteria, they are sent home until the following occur:

1. They are evaluated by their physician/pediatrician and have been given an alternate diagnosis other than Covid-19.

2. When appropriate, are tested for Covid-19.

3. If choose not to see a physician or be tested for Covid-19, they quarantine for a designated period of time to ensure symptoms do not develop or it is safe to return to school.”

Staff and students that have a confirmed diagnosis of Covid-19 are quarantined for 10 days., Prestridge said. Staff and students that have a known high risk exposure to a confirmed Covid-19 individual will be quarantined for 14 days.

“All individuals quarantined have to be fully symptom free at the end of their quarantine period to return to school,” Prestridge said.

Although Lamar County schools report each case to the health district, confirmed cases are only counted once in the daily health department report, Prestridge said.

Mary Madewell is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6976 or at mary.madewell@theparisnews.com.

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