COVID-19 surge sends ripples through area education

Jan. 11—The surge of COVID-19 cases throughout Luzerne County is causing multiple and evolving changes in plans for area schools at all levels.

The number of daily new cases reported for the county has skyrocketed, topping 800 on Friday and Saturday and setting a new one-day record Sunday, with 989 new cases reported. The surge is reflected in the state’s data for those ages 0 to 18, released once a week. Last week the state reported 724 new cases in Luzerne county for that age group, more than double the 303 reported one week earlier.

Here are some of the responses by area education institutions.

Luzerne County Community College delayed the start of the spring semester “based on the increase in the positivity rate and the number of cases of COVID-19 in the region,” according to a media release. The start of spring semester was moved from Jan. 18 to Jan. 31. Classes at the Wilkes-Barre Center and Late Start Sections are delayed from Jan. 31 to Feb. 14. Spring break has been eliminated, and the spring semester will now end May 20.

King’s College also delayed the start of the the Spring Semester, announcing late last week that classes will begin Jan. 24

Wilkes University President Greg Cant sent out a notice that the spring semester would temporarily shift to an online format. “All classes slated to begin on Tuesday, Jan. 18 will do so remotely.” The plan is to transition back to face-to-face classes Jan. 31. “Moving back to residence halls will be flexible,” Cant wrote, with the halls open on Jan. 16. But “You will be required to register for a move-in time that includes a return COVID-19 test.”

While students will have the option “to remain at home during the nine days of remote instruction,” residential students will still be charged for room and board during the stretch of virtual instruction. And the University is requiring students and employees to be tested before returning to campus regardless of vaccination status. PCR nasal tests, saliva tests or antigen/rapid tests are all acceptable.

Masks continue to be required in all indoor campus locations regardless of vaccination. “With the transmissibility of the Omicron variant, it is strongly recommended that you wear a KN95 or disposable surgical face mask in lieu of cloth masks. If you must wear a cloth mask, you should layer several masks for the best protection. Neck gaiters do not provide the necessary level of protection and should not be used.”

Greater Nanticoke Area School District Superintendent Ron Grevera announced Saturday evening that the district will go full-virtual this week “due to COVID and staffing concerns. Students will follow their schedules by logging into Google classroom attending classes and competing assignments.” The district plans to resume in-person classes Jan. 18, following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Hanover Area School District announced last week that it would give students the option of switching to remote live learning for the month of January, and Superintendent Nathan Barrett held a community meeting Sunday night via Zoom to go over the details.

Barrett began by giving the number of new cases in the last two weeks for each school, with three of the four elementary buildings reporting fewer than 10, Hanover Green having 10 and the high school reporting 55. The state requires a school close if 5% of the school population tests positive in 14 days or 10% test positive in 30 days, he said, but stressed it is a school-level requirement, so one school may close while another remains open.

The district also began mandating testing of athletes, regular testing of unvaccinated staff once per week, and continues to require masks and desk shields. The district has rapid antigen tests available on demand for students. And the district has begun providing a “positive case submission form” for parents to submit if the family has a positive test the district should know about.

Regarding the online option, Barrett said attendance will be taken for every period, and that lunches will be distributed every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to noon at Memorial Elementary and the high school for those who switch to virtual learning. The district is requiring a student who goes online to stay online until the end of January. While the district will allow in-person students to switch to the online format if they are required to quarantine, students will not be able to switch from online back to in-person until the end of the month.

Barrett noted the district had gone to full remote learning for all schools the first week of January because positive cases in all schools were “through the roof,” and he felt uncomfortable bringing all students in schools until more testing could be made available. He said additional testing helped discover 30 cases.

Wyoming Area School District had announced before Christmas break that all classes would be virtual from Jan. 3 through Jan. 17. The plan is to return to in-person lessons Jan. 18. At the time, Superintendent Janet Serino said the move was made out of concern that family gatherings over the holidays would lead to an increase of infections, a concern that has turned out to be accurate.

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish

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