Letcher County Schools are expected to be operating entirely virtually at least through the end of this week, and probably longer as the number COVID-19 cases reached the critical point in the county over the weekend and in-person classes were cancelled beginning Tuesday.
Jenkins Independent Schools remained open. Jenkins has cancel led middle school basketball games, but sports practices are still scheduled.
In order for students to attend classes in person, the rate of COVID-19 infections in the county must average below 25 per 100,000 for the prior seven days, as measured on Thursday evening.
While the notice came out on Saturday that the rate had gone to 25.2, the school district waited until Monday to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. On Monday evening, the rate had increased to 28.5, and Letcher County School Superintendent Denise Yonts made the decision to close school beginning yesterday (Tuesday).
Yonts said that though state guidelines suggest using the data from Thursday evening, the rapid increase in the rate from Friday to Saturday and again on Monday led her to decide it was in the best interest of students, staff and the community to cancel Tuesday instead of waiting until next week.
However, while school has been cancelled sports conditioning will continue, and a football playoff game between Letcher County Central High School and Perry Central High School was still scheduled to continue as planned in Whitesburg. Yonts said the district will “keep an eye on the numbers,” and will decide jointly with Perry Central whether to cancel the game.
So far, in the last few days Letcher County Schools have had at least five people test positive for the virus, including three school-age children on Tuesday, Kentucky River District Health Department Director Scott Lockard said.
“ We’re seeing some school cases, looks like some sporting events – school sports – Save-a-Lot, Wendy’s and just some different community spread,” Lockard said.
There were 14 cases of COVID-19 in Letcher County on Tuesday, bringing the total calculated by the district to 393, up from 350 a week earlier.
Lockard said surge in cases in Letcher County comes within the twoweek incubation period after Halloween, though no cases could be traced directly to trick-or-treating. The weather was nice that weekend, and Lockard said he believes that contributed to the spike, but so did the return to school.
“The in-person classes, I think that’s been a catalyst, and just general pandemic fatigue,” he said, adding that if people would wear their masks and practice social distancing, the numbers might fall enough for in-person classes to start back up.
Statewide, Kentucky saw a record-breaking week for new COVID-19 infections, and deaths.
Letcher County School Board Member Shawn Gilley, one of two members who opposed returning to school, said he was in favor of closing schools until the numbers make a significant decrease. He said before the closure Monday that he had hoped schools would already be closed.
“I think the second we go red, we go back virtual,” he said. “We get our students out of the building and don’t let them go back again until it goes back down.”
He said in addition to students, the district is the largest employer in the county and how it handles its response to the virus affects more people than any other public agency or business.
“We have a huge responsibility when it comes to reducing the virus in this county,” Gilley said.
Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday that surge testing will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Keeneland in Lexington, and urged everyone to be tested on a regular schedule to be sure they are not unknowingly spreading the virus.
Beshear highlighted an updated report and recommendation from the White House that praised his actions, and said he hopes it will “stop the foolishness,” an apparent reference to lawsuits filed against him to block his orders related to the virus. The Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously rejected that suit last week.
“‘The Governor’s active measures are commended,’” Beshear read from the report. “The White House supports the things we have done, and hopefully the things we will have to do. This isn’t a Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative. This is a virus that is coming for everyone it can.”
Beshear said the sheer number of new cases has overwhelmed contact tracers, and showed a video from the Franklin County Health Department asking residents to notify their contacts themselves if they test positive for the virus.
If exposed, a person should stay home for 14 days from their last contact, stay away from even their own family members, and get friends or family to deliver food to the home.
In the Kentucky River District, Lockard said it is vitally important for people to wear their masks and maintain social distancing.
Many people are not wearing masks at all, not wearing them correctly or are pulling them below their nose once they get inside stores, despite signs saying masks are required. Masks should be worn so they cover both the nose and mouth. Cloth masks should be a minimum of two layers and Disposable surgical masks are also effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Bandanas, face shields, masks with one-way valves and thin neck gaiters pulled over the face are not as effective as snugly fitting masks made of multiple layers of material.
Even with good quality masks, people should remain at least six feet apart. The latest research shows masks protect both the wearer and those around him or her, with the greatest protection being when both people are masked. The mask should be in place before entering until after leaving a building, and the mask should not be touched while on the face. Use of hand sanitizer or washing hands often for at least 20 seconds is also recommended.
There were 14 new cases of COVID-19 in Letcher County on Tuesday. The totals for the county as of Tuesday were as follows (the numbers are somewhat lower than state totals because the state receives some positive test reports from laboratories before the district health department receives them): Knott – Total 469 (46 probable) (77 active, 384 recovered, 8 dead) Lee – Total 269 (33 probable) (91 active, 167 recovered, 11 dead) (Total includes 169 cases from Lee Adustment Center, a privately run prison. A total of about 450 cases have been identified at the prison, but all have not been processed.) Leslie – Total 168 (13 probable) (26 active, 141 recovered, 1 dead) Letcher – Total 393 (127 probable) (63 active, 328 recovered, 2 dead) Owsley – Total 140 (48 probable) (37 active, 102 recovered, 1 dead) Perry – Total 765 (63 probable) (179 active, 576 recovered, 10 dead) Wolfe – Total 137 (32 probable) (54 active, 82 recovered, 1 dead) Pike – Total 1,448 (471 active, 962 recovered, 15 dead) Harlan – Total 756 Wise Co., Va. – Total 1,048 (54 hospitalized, 17 dead) Norton, Va. – Total 64 (5 hospitalized).