5th graders in Rae C. Stedman Elementary School are in quarantine for two weeks because of a positive COVID case in class. (Photo/KFSK)

Dozens of Petersburg elementary students are quarantining after a positive COVID case was identified in the school last week (Oct. 27) In a KFSK radio call-in show, school officials and others answered questions from the public about the latest cases and how the process went at the schools. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

Calls and texts went out to Petersburg parents on October 27 about a COVID case at the elementary school and that all three schools were closing down. The closure lasted for two days for contact tracing and deep cleaning.

School administrators say that all in all, the closure went pretty smooth, especially being the first run through.

A few days after the event, they reflected on the actions that were taken.

“There will be other cases that we’ll have to deal with and make decisions about within the school setting,” said Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter. “We certainly learned a few things during this.”

One of those things was communicating to parents exactly when they should come get their kids. The initial message just said to make arrangements to pick them up. Another was the limitations of the One Call text to parents. One Call is the district’s system that can send out mass announcements. The texts through the system only allows for a certain number of characters so that message lacked some detail. The school district sent messages over the phone, emails and social media but Kludt-Painter says high school students’ prefer texts.

“As we all know, that’s pretty much where students live, they check their email for school but it’s not their primary place so we’re just trying to think a little bit, what that might look like,” said Kludt-Painter.

Even though there was only one positive case in the 5th grade class, the school district decided to have all three pods of the 5th grade quarantine for two weeks. The CDC defines a close contact as someone who was within 6 feet of a positive case for a combined time of 15 minutes over a 24 hour period. Kludt-Painter says they decided to go with the whole 5th grade class because there is a bit of overlap during recess with all of the pods.

“I would say at this point we are acting in a more overly cautious manner looking at the whole group because there’s sort of that 30 minute overlap,” Kludt-Painter said. “I don’t know that we would do this every time I think that we’re definitely learning our way through this but I would say at this point we made the decision being overly cautious.”

Local health officials advise that 5th graders be isolated inside the home as much as possible, using separate bedrooms and bathrooms and masking when that can’t happen.

Family members of the 5th graders do not need to quarantine because they are not considered to be close contacts. So, siblings can still attend school.

Some parents of 5th graders were called for their students to get tested and others were not. It depended on whether or not the students were known to be in direct contact with the positive case.

Liz Bacom, the Infection Prevention Manager for the Petersburg Medical Center, says they encourage parents to take their 5th graders and others to the free SEARHC clinic on the weekend to get tested.

“There’s no appointment needed, there’s no charge for the testing,” Bacom said. “However, if the student has symptoms they need to call the hotline and arrange for testing through the hotline.”

The Petersburg Emergency Operation Center announced a health alert October 29 encouraging in-state travelers to test when returning to Petersburg. It’s free for residents at the airport. The EOC is also drafting a health alert to encourage masking in Petersburg. Incident Commander, Karl Hagerman says they are asking people who are indoors with others outside of their household to wear a mask but he stressed it’s not a mandate.

“I’m not ready to jump to that quite yet because I don’t want to start the argument, the civil rights argument,” Hagerman said. “It would be better just to strongly implore our population to mask up and protect others.”

Petersburg 5th graders and other close contacts identified at the school can return to in-person class on November 10.

In the interest of transparency, KFSK reporter Angela Denning is a parent of a 5th grader at the elementary school.

The Petersburg School District is holding a virtual, special school board meeting Nov. 2 at 5:30 p.m. over Ring Central. The only topic at the meeting is to consider requiring testing for staff and students traveling within the state.

Meeting details:

This meeting is a public meeting and open to the public to attend virtually online. This meeting will be broadcast live on KFSK Radio. If anyone would like to speak during the meeting they can do so under the agenda items: COMMENTS FROM AUDIENCE UNRELATED TO AGENDA ITEMS or COMMENTS FROM AUDIENCE RELATED TO AGENDA ITEMS. They must be logged onto RingCentral using the link below: Please email exec@pcsd.us or supt@pcsd.us for the password to access the meeting prior to start time.

Petersburg School Board Meeting Ring Central Link: