Schools in Danville and Pittsylvania County are possible high-risk COVID-19 transmission locations, according to metrics released this week by the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Schools in neighboring Martinsville and Henry County also are in that classification.
The health organizations use a composite of metrics to place individual cities and counties into one of five levels ranging from lowest risk to highest risk. In between those levels are lower risk, moderate risk and higher risk. Just as transmission and infection data can spike and recede, the risk levels will change to reflect that movement.
As of Wednesday, Danville and Henry County have the highest risk classification in large part due to high figures in the category of total number of new cases per 100,000 population in the last 14 days. Danville’s figure stood at 294.9, while Henry County’s was 204.1. Their respective 14-day percent positivity rates were calculated as 5.1% (moderate risk) and 9.5% (higher risk).
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Personnel in the separate public school districts are aware of the dashboard — which was released on Monday but tracks locality data going back to earlier in the year — and are using its information to inform daily discussions about reopening procedures.
The Danville School Board has not yet voted on a date to begin phasing students back into classrooms, but members are expected to hear a recommendation either for or against that movement from Interim Superintendent Catherine Magouyrk on Oct. 15.
Until then, the data collection continues.
“Those factors are a large contributor in our decision-making,” William Chaney, the director of safety and security at Danville Public Schools, said in a statement. “We have hope that the numbers will continue to decrease. We will continue to monitor the 14-day trends. The positive rate per day has dropped recently, which gives us hope. Unfortunately, the numbers also tend to fluctuate.”
The percent positivity rate for Danville has indeed dropped from 12.4% on Sept. 1 to 5.1% on Wednesday.
The Henry County School Board voted Sept. 24 to adopt a hybrid model beginning on Oct. 12. Since that vote, the county’s number of new cases per 100,000 population within the last 14 days has increased from 192.3, but its percent positivity rate has dropped from 11% to 9.5% by Wednesday.
Henry County’s school board will meet on Thursday evening, but there is no formal agenda item yet to discuss the schools being seen as a high-risk transmission location or to reconsider the vote made last week.
According to the VDH and CDC, the current status in Martinsville and Pittsylvania County is only moderately better compared to Danville and Henry County.
Martinsville City is listed as a higher risk locality in part because of its current 131.8 number of new cases per 100,000 population within the last two weeks. Further, the percent positivity rate in that same timeframe is 10%, which is also a higher risk. Pittsylvania County’s metrics in the same categories are listed as 165.7 (higher risk) and 5.1% (moderate risk).
One positive indicator in Martinsville, however, is that the percent change in new cases per 100,000 in the last seven days compared to the previous seven days is minus 30 %, putting Martinsville in the lowest risk category for that metric. The opposite is true in Pittsylvania County, though, where that figure is 10.4% (highest risk).
Martinsville City Public Schools students remain in virtual learning for the time being, and Superintendent Zeb Talley Jr. said that will remain the case until the health data improve.
“We’ve reviewed our metrics and we’re still in the high zone. In fact, we’re right below the highest level you can be in terms of contamination spread,” Talley said. “Of course we’re going to remain on virtual [learning] until we can get some type of assurance [that we are] minimal risk. Safety continues to be our number one priority.”
In the meantime, Talley said his district will continue monitoring Martinsville’s statistics just as it always has. The addition of this new VDH and CDC dashboard will help create a fuller view of the pandemic’s local spread, he said.
“We don’t want any guesswork,” Talley said. “We’re going to follow the data, and any additional information we can get is very significant for us.”
Pittsylvania County Schools students in kindergarten through third grade returned to classrooms last week, along with Pittsylvania Career & Technical Center students. All other grades are scheduled to return on Oct. 12. Superintendent Mark Jones was not available for comment Wednesday.
Across Virginia, only five localities were classified as lower risk or lowest risk areas as of Wednesday. Those were Bland County, Alleghany County, Rappahannock County, Poquoson City and Northampton County. Much of the state remains classified as higher risk, with particular problem areas being Buchanan, Tazewell and Smyth counties in deep Southwest Virginia and the counties south of Petersburg, including Prince George, Surry, Sussex, Greensville, Southampton and Isle of Wight.