St. James students returned to school last week and made it four days before the district announced there was one middle school staff member who tested positive for COVID-19. Superintendent Dr. Merlyn Johnson said the district will be making weekly updates to keep families informed as the year gets underway.
Classes began for the new year on Tuesday and the first four days went smoothly, before a statement on Friday addressing the positive case of a staff member. “The purpose of this communication is to provide transparency regarding the effects of COVID-19 cases within our district. We will remain in constant contact with the Phelps/Maries County Department of Health and are prepared to shut down cohorts, buildings, or the entire district if cases rise and closures are in the best interest of our community,” Johnson said in a statement released to parents on Friday, August 28.
As of Friday, one staff member and two students were in quarantine to begin the school year. “On Friday, August 29, the St. James R-1 School District was notified by the Phelps/Maries County Department of Health that a St. James Middle School staff member tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19). The students, their families, and other staff members in close contact with this individual have or are being notified by the Phelps/Maries County Health Department,” Johnson said in a statement released on Saturday. “We are working closely with them to assist with contact tracing and have been advised that a full building closure is not necessary at this time.”
Johnson said the district will remain at Level 2, which were the protocols the district started the year in, with in-person learning a priority for those not attending virtually for the fall semester.
“The St. James R-1 School District will continue to work closely with local health officials to monitor evolving circumstances and revise our operational plan as needed. In an effort to focus communications surrounding COVID cases, moving forward, we plan to notify only those in the same building of an individual who has tested positive,” Johnson said.
Information about the entire district regarding positive tests and present quarantines can be found on the district’s website at www.stjschools.org under the “COVID-19 Resources” tab. As of Monday, there were two staff members and two students in quarantine, with only the one positive test in the district.
“COVID-19 is thought to be spread via person-to-person contact through contaminated air droplets from coughing and sneezing by an infected person. As with controlling the spread of other viruses, we urge everyone to take preventative measures and monitor for symptoms daily,” Johnson said.
The district encouraged families to take precautions and follow health department follow safety guidelines such as staying socially distanced, avoiding large groups, wearing masks when not able to keep away from others, covering coughs or sneezes, proper hand washing, cleaning frequently used surfaces, staying home when sick, and avoiding others are sick.
Individuals with COVID-19 have reported a wide range of symptoms, with some not experiencing any symptoms at all, and include fever or chills, a cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle and body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.
The Phelps/Maries County Health Department encourages anyone with symptoms to isolate from others. The St. James School District will continue to monitor school buildings as the year progresses and hopes to make this process as transparent for families as possible.