Area schools are implementing steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, as state officials continue to see the count climb of confirmed cases of the disease in South Dakota.
Officials with the Gov. Kristi Noem's office and the South Dakota Department of Health announced Tuesday that individuals in Beadle, Charles Mix, Davison, Minnehaha, Pennington counties had been confirmed to have contracted the virus, with the case in Pennington County resulting in the death of a man in his 60s. On Wednesday, that number climbed up to eight, with more cases in Bon Homme and Minnehaha counties.
The spread of the virus around the country — there are now 938 of confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the United States according the Center for Disease Control and Prevention — and its arrival in South Dakota has school officials in the area taking precautions to make sure the education of their students is preserved while protecting students and staff.
The Wagner Community School District, in Charles Mix County, released a statement saying the district schools would close through Friday to implement deep cleaning as a precautionary measure.
“For the best interest of our staff and students, we have taken the following precautions to not have school this afternoon, Wednesday, March 11, and remainder of this week. Cleaning recommendations per the South Dakota Department of Health will be followed,” read the statement, which was provided by the school business office.
The nearby Platte-Geddes Community School District is taking steps to clean their buildings, but classes are still on for now, said Joel Bailey, superintendent for the district.
“From a school district perspective, we’re going to fog or mist all of our classrooms, and we’re looking into eLearning options in case something like that comes to fruition,” Bailey said. “At this point, we’re just trying to prepare and educate people so they have the facts and not rumors.”
The cleaning will take place starting Friday and over spring break, which starts March 19, Bailey said, and school officials would continue to monitor the situation with the help of state health officials.
Extracurricular activities are still on as planned, including the boys basketball team’s trip to the South Dakota Class B boys state basketball tournament, Bailey said, but he would also be watching that situation with the help of the South Dakota High School Activities Association.
Bailey also said he would be sending out an eLearning survey to district patrons to gauge student access to important services, such as Wi-Fi, in the event the district needs to take an online approach to teaching students.
“One thing I’m sending out today is an eLearning survey to gather information about if they have access to Wi-Fi,” Bailey said.
The West Central School District in Hartford also closed Wednesday to implement cleaning procedures after discussions with state and national officials.
“In consultation with the CDC, South Dakota Department of Health, the Governor’s office and local officials, an action plan has been developed to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19,” Brad Berens, superintendent for the district, said in a statement. “The district has initiated steps to deep clean all school buildings and sources of transportation. All district buildings are closed and all activities are canceled for today (Wednesday). This includes outside groups who have reserved facility space for community education and/or practices.”
The Mitchell Board of Education at its regular Monday meeting earlier this week heard the outline for a plan to implement eLearning in the event the district is forced to close schools for an extended period of time due to the virus or spring flooding. The district has already reviewed cleaning procedures similar to what is used with the arrival of influenza season with its custodial staff.
Joe Graves, superintendent for the district, said the district continues to monitor the situation after the confirmation of a case in Davison County and will take any appropriate steps to insure the safety of all district patrons.
“I am now in contact with a representative from the South Dakota Department of Health very familiar with conditions in Mitchell related to coronavirus,” Graves said in a statement. “He and I plan to stay in regular contact so that we have the best possible information going forward.”
Graves encouraged people to follow guidelines from the state department of health, such as the regular cleaning of homes and classrooms, keeping children home who exhibit symptoms - including fevers, using hand sanitizer or washing hands regularly with soap and water and covering up your mouth when coughing.
Bailey said the Platte-Geddes district would continue to monitor the situation and work to provide the best educational experience possible to its students in any event.
“When we get to flu season, we always see some absences. So we track those and try to work with the families and get a level of support so they don’t fall too behind,” Bailey said. “If something happens where we have a student that has tested positive, we’re going to work with the parent and student to provide the best education for that student.”
Information about COVID-19 in the state can be found at the South Dakota Department of Health at doh.sd.gov/news/Coronavirus.aspx.
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