Whitesburg KY

County schools to open Aug. 26; cases now at 20

Schools set opening as COVID cases rise

Letcher County Schools are continuing with plans to open up August 26 among rising numbers of COVID-19 cases across the state and nation.

The number of cases of COVID-19 in Letcher County stood at 20 late Tuesday, up from 17 a week earlier. The latest case, reported yesterday, is a 60-year-old woman. Gov. Andy Beshear on Tuesday announced 576 new cases statewide, the second highest ever reported in the state.

Whitesburg Little League opened up last Monday, only to close again on Thursday because of possible exposure to the virus. It resumed play on Tuesday after the player who had test positive tested negative twice. Tee-Ball was not resumed because of the difficulty of meeting infection control guidelines.

In Harlan County, the health department has logged 46 new cases in three days, and in Perry County, renewed football practice at Hazard High School led to nine players and a coach testing positive for COVID-19.

“Some of it is travel related because families have gone on vacation, and I think this is a harbinger of what we’re going to have to be watching out with in schools,” Kentucky River District Health Director Scott Lockard said. “I know we all want to go on vacation, but this is the worst time to do that.”

In the Kentucky River Health District, the number of cases was at 161 on Tuesday, up from 113 a week earlier, and reported 10 new cases on Tuesday. In the seven-county district, there are more cases among people under the age of 18 than in any other age group.

The total number of cases in Kentucky has increased by more than 2,100 in the past seven days. The number of dead on Tuesday had increased to 629, up by 27 from a week earlier. Of the 272 cases reported in the state on Monday, 11 were children under 5 years old.

Letcher County School Superintendent Denise Yonts released a plan last week for students to choose between taking full-time online classes, or attending school two days a week on a staggered schedule and completing the rest of the work online. Students who attend in person will go either Monday and Wednesday, or Tuesday and Thursday, and work online on the remaining days. The reduced number of students attending will make it possible to seat students six feet apart, if things go as planned, and students will only be required to wear masks then they can’t stay apart. Extracurricular activities would also start back, but students attending classes online only would not be eligible to participate.

Under that plan, school will resume August 26.

The board of education will vote on the plan July 27, and board Chairman Will Smith said he expects it will be approved.

“There is no good option,” Smith said. “With the guidelines we have, it’s probably the best we can have.”

Smith said even with that, he believes it is likely that in-person classes will have to be paused at some point because of someone testing positive for the virus. With rapidly changing numbers and new revelations each day about how the virus acts, Smith said any plans made now might be undone by the time school starts back.

“Right now, this is the plan to start school, but by August 26, it may be different,” he said.

Jenkins Superintendent Damian Johnson, who took over July 1, said his district has not yet made a decision about restarting school, and is surveying parents.

“What we’re finding is it’s about split. About a third want the A/B schedule like Letcher County is doing, a third want it to be five days, and a third want it all online,” Johnson said. “That’s kind of a hard place to be.”

The current schedule calls for the opening day for Jenkins teachers to be August 17 with students beginning August 19, but Johnson said it’s very unlikely that will happen.

“I’m almost 100 percent sure we’re going to put it off for two weeks,” he said.

Elsewhere in the state, Fayette County School Board members told the Herald-Leader that they are leaning toward not reopening in-person classes this year because of rising numbers of infections and deaths.

The city of Lexington recorded five COVID-19 deaths on Sunday alone, that city’s highest one-day total.

Opponents of Gov. Andy Beshear continue to stall his public health executive orders in court as the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to rise in eastern Kentucky and across the state.

An order that took effect on Friday requiring masks in public places remains in effect for now, though Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron has filed a motion in Scott Circuit Court to block that order as well. Cameron said in a statement that he believes masks help stop the spread of the virus, but that he sued over “the process.”

The governor is challenging the judge’s impartiality.

Beshear has asked that both Scott County Circuit Judges be disqualified in the cases because of their relationships with Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, a Republican, who along with an orchard filed suit to stop the orders from taking effect. Cameron joined the suit last week. Beshear has asked that the chief judge for the region appoint a judge to hear the case.

Overall, in the seven-county Kentucky River Health District, the cases reported on Tuesday include: a 60-year-old woman from Letcher County; a 37-year-old woman from Knott County; and a 20-year-old man, a 74-year-old woman, an 18-year-old man, a 45-year-old man, a 40-year-old woman, a 37-year-old man and two cases under 18 years of age, all from Perry County.

Cases in Letcher and surrounding counties are: Knott County – 21; Lee County – 1; Leslie County – 13; Letcher County – 20; Owsley County – 3; Perry County – 96; Wolfe County – 7; Harlan County – 86; Pike County – 130; Floyd County – 40; Wise County, Va. – 47; Norton, Va. – 4.

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