By Lyra Bordelon
Greenbrier County Schools have shifted to mostly remote learning for the rest of the week after a vote by the Greenbrier County Board of Education on Tuesday, December 8. This weekend, the board is expected to meet to determine how schools move forward as county-wide COVID-19 cases continue to rise, nearly breaking 500 confirmed cases according to Health Department numbers.
“The board has taken everything into consideration and we … are going to place all secondary schools on remote learning for the remainder of the week,” explained Jeanie Wyatt, board president. “We would like all elementary schools to report tomorrow, Wednesday, December 9, then they will all go remote for the remainder of the week. The board will then meet during the weekend to evaluate the map and decide on attendance data, the week of December 14. Now, we also need to make the statement that if Greenbrier County goes red on the map, or orange, we are automatically closed. But as of now, we are still in the gold. At this point we need to make a decision next week.”
Head school nurse Paula McCoy also explained some of the information the board took into consideration before taking action.
“Like many of you that follow the WV DHHR map, you can see there are a lot of changes this week,” McCoy said. “We are in gold with a percent positivity of 4.61 and our infection rate has been red for quite some time,” … Currently we have a little over 110 students and staff that are quarantined. That number is going to go up tomorrow due to contact tracing through different schools that we’ve learned about tonight. … We do have people coming out of quarantine but we have just as many going in.”
Citing the massively increasing local caseload, up to 480 confirmed cases in the county as of December 8 from 338 just two weeks ago, if community transmission continues, the spike in cases could result in the overfilling of healthcare providers, leading to a much higher death rate.
“There are quite a few indicators that are beyond our control and these are the indicators that we are seeing skyrocket,” McCoy said. “These indicators can lead to a higher risk of transmission in schools. That is certainly what we’re trying to avoid. … We know that our hospital is not at capacity but is certainly very close to that. Patients that are being admitted are having to wait some time to get a hospital bed, and some patients are being diverted to other facilities. That is a concern.”
After the board voted to approve the measure, Wyatt explained concern for local healthcare providers was also a reason for the reconsideration of in-person learning policies. Thanking the department for their tireless work, Wyatt also explained the board seeks to balance the services the school system offers to students and public health and safety.
“We just feel like we need to take this step now and try to help the community spread as much as we can,” Wyatt said. “All week long we’ve heard from people, and sometimes they don’t understand, but our number one goal here is for our kids, faculty, and staff to be safe. … Nurse McCoy, [Superintendent Jeff] Bryant, and I were on a phone call with the Greenbrier Valley Task Force this morning and it was the first time I had ever seen our health department upset and scared. They are very, very concerned. We have a mess, so it’s time now that we start taking some strong action.”
In addition to policy items and employee items, the board also agreed to change the typical meeting time from 7 p.m. to 3 p.m. for the time being.
Update 10:20 p.m. – comments made by Wyatt were initially mistaken as being made by Associate Superintendent Nancy Hanna over the phone meeting. The article has been updated to reflect the correct speaker.