This week has seen many teacher, student and staff member absences due to positive tests or quarantines but Tipton County Schools has received no recommendations to close schools.

Cases and positivity rates have been increasing at a rapid pace all over the county and the school cases mirror that.

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Earlier this week at Brighton Elementary there were more than a dozen faculty and staff members – including both assistant principals – out. There are also a high number of faculty and staff absences at Austin Peay and Munford elementary schools.

On Friday, Covington High School announced it would forfeit its playoff game against Milan, a move forced by COVID-19 cases and quarantines on the team.

Combs said he expects cases to surge after the Thanksgiving break and Christmas break as well.

There have been no recommendations to close schools, though, and Combs said the risk would have to be much greater than it is now before that happens for several factors.

“It would have be to be pretty bad,” Combs said of the possibility of closing schools. “We have horrible internet access and we’d be putting a lot of kids out without support, without instruction and even without meals.”

The Tipton County Schools district has reported as of last Friday, Nov. 6, there have been 76 students who’ve tested positive, 926 students quarantined, 53 positive staff, 110 quarantined staff since Aug. 24.

Since last Friday, the total number of confirmed cases in the 5-18 age group in Tipton County has grown by 55. The week prior, that number grew by only 13 cases.

The state does not provide any more public data, so it is not known by The Leader how many of those students are enrolled in public schools or going to classes in person. There are two local private schools as well.

The mean positivity rate for Tipton County this week is 22.06 percent. The county has been in the White House Task Force red zone and the Harvard Global Health Institute’s red zone for risk and transmission for months, meaning the positivity rate is over 10 percent, however Combs said there is no magic number for closures.

The state department of health does provide a rubric for case response.

The current plan is for schools will continue to operate on the four-day in-person schedule of operation through Christmas break.

Confirmed cases, quarantine and misleading numbers

The number of quarantined students, said Sherrie Yarbro, is a bit misleading.

Every week school nurses report information to Yarbro, and sometimes students were counted as quarantined twice because they’d been out for two weeks.

A new process for reporting the number of student quarantined is currently being implemented.

Superintendent Dr. John Combs said exposure is difficult to trace, but only five students and two staff tested positive due to presumed exposure at school. The majority of quarantines have resulted, he said, from household or other contact with positive cases outside of school.

Contract tracers begin working with a patient as soon as they can after the patient has tested positive. If a caregiver or faculty member does not report the positive test result to the school, the health department will. Sometimes it can take several days for primary contacts to be notified and quarantined.

Within schools, school nurses have been conducting their own contract tracing.

Seating charts are typically used to determine primary contacts in classrooms, Yarbro said. The health department uses CDC guidelines to determine who will be required to quarantine.

Another mask mandate isn’t out of the question

There could potentially be another mask mandate in schools, but Combs tends to stay aligned with the decisions of county executive Jeff Huffman.

“Right now you’re supposed to wear them in the classroom if you can’t socially distance, you’re supposed to wear them in the hallways at the change of classes, you’re still supposed to wear them on the bus … all of that is still mandated and every child should still have a mask in their pocket or on their face when they’re in school.”

Mitigating the spread

Positivity rates – which are determined by comparing the number of positive cases to the number of tests conducted – are on the rise.

Huffman, and other local mayors, is hoping Tennessee Governor Bill Lee will issue a statewide mask mandate but that has not yet come.

Though there is no mandate currently in place, the best practices for helping mitigate the spread are the correct use of face mask, hand washing/sanitization, social distancing and staying home when you’re sick.

The Leader provides COVID-19 updates, with accompanying charts and other relevant visualizations, Monday-Friday through its Facebook page, facebook.com/covingtonleader. To stay updated daily, visit the page.

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