On November 9, Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) entered Stage 3 of our Return to School plan. We are pleased to have our youngest learners back in our buildings for hybrid learning as well as additional secondary students for in-person access. With reports of increasing COVID-19 infections across our state and the country, I’d like to share with you the factors that will help us determine whether it is safe to continue with face-to-face instruction.
CDC Core Indicators
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Indicators for Dynamic School Decision-Making to help communities better understand the risk of introduction and transmission of COVID-19 in schools. The guidance includes three core indicators of disease transmission:
- Number of new cases per 100,000 persons within the last 14 days;
- Percentage of RT-PCR tests (molecular diagnostic tests) that are positive during the last 14 days; and
- Ability of the school to implement five key mitigation strategies (masks, social distancing, hand hygiene/respiratory etiquette, cleaning/disinfection, and contact tracing in collaboration with the local health department).
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) tracks these metrics daily and makes them accessible to the public on their School Metrics web page. You can view the COVID-19 pandemic metrics for ACPS by selecting Albemarle in the “Select Locality” drop-down menu.
What metrics would prompt ACPS to shift to Stage 1?
If for seven consecutive days in Albemarle County the number of new cases per 100,000 persons within the last 14 days exceeds 200 and the percentage of diagnostic tests that are positive during the last 14 days exceeds 8%, ACPS will shift to Stage 1 of our Return to School Plan, which is virtual instruction for all students.
In this scenario, a shift to Stage 1 would not require School Board approval. If such a move became necessary, we would notify School Board members, employees, and families immediately, and the transition would occur at the beginning of the following week.
What would a shift to Stage 1 mean for my student?
In a shift to Stage 1, the majority of students would remain with the teacher to whom they are assigned in our current Stage 3. If schools need to change individual student assignments to provide more equal opportunities and access to instruction, principals will reach out to parents/guardians to consult on this change.
In Stage 1, school buildings would remain open to staff for use in virtual instruction and for the preparation of student meals, which would continue to be delivered along bus routes.
How long would the division remain in Stage 1?
The division would remain in Stage 1 as long as the two health measures (new cases and testing positivity rate) exceed the thresholds described above. When the two measures decrease and are on track to fall below the benchmarks, the division will announce a return to Stage 3. Stage 3 will begin when there is a downward trend of both CDC indicators for 14 days and at least one measure is below its threshold.
A Note About Thresholds
As demonstrated this fall, cases at the University of Virginia (UVA) affect our data, but there has been no evidence of community spread. The current public health and safety thresholds will remain in place while UVA is not in session, between now and February 1. Once UVA students return for the spring session, the impact will be analyzed when considering these thresholds.
Thresholds must take into account circumstances that could influence our data, but not pose a risk to our schools. For example, a large outbreak at a long-term care facility may result in data exceeding a benchmark, but it would not require the school division to return to Stage 1.
Are there other reasons why ACPS might move to Stage 1?
Beyond our locality’s COVID-19 pandemic metrics, other factors such as higher absentee rates of students and staff or evidence of spread in our facilities could result in a return to Stage 1 even if thresholds have not been reached. Thresholds are intended for division-wide decisions. Short-term decisions made by individual schools may occur separately if circumstances warrant and in consultation with the local health department.
How are Albemarle’s pandemic metrics looking now?
As of November 24, for the last 14 days, Albemarle County is reporting 146.2 cases per 100,000 persons and has a testing positivity rate of 1.4%. These results are among the lowest of any health district in Virginia.
Our students and staff have been exceptionally diligent in following the health and safety strategies in our schools and departments. Since the beginning of the school year, 17 staff members and one student (among those who have been working or learning in person) have been diagnosed with COVID-19, but there continues to be no evidence of COVID-19 transmission in any of our schools or departments.
The health and well-being of our students and staff is our highest priority. We will continue frequent consultation with our health department and vigorous implementation of our health plan, including disinfection of surfaces and enforcing hand hygiene, the wearing of face coverings, and physical distancing.
We will share any health department updates for our area and instructions regarding COVID-19 with you to ensure we continue to keep everyone as safe and protected as possible.
I wish you all an enjoyable holiday. As shared in our Holiday Safety Message last week, please follow our local health department’s Tips for a safe Thanksgiving. They recommend minimizing travel and point out that “gathering indoors with multiple households is one of the riskiest things you can do this Thanksgiving as it increases the possibility of getting and spreading COVID-19.”
Please stay safe,
Chief Operating Officer