An initial group of Fayette County Schools employees received their first round of the Moderna vaccine on Friday, Jan. 8 at Oak Hill Middle School.

On Dec. 30, Gov. Jim Justice announced that the Covid-19 vaccine will be offered to all teachers, service personnel and other school employees age 50-and-older in the state. Vaccinations began earlier in the week. Once those 50-and-over who want to receive the vaccine do, Justice said younger school personnel statewide will have the opportunity.

Fayette County Schools Superintendent Gary Hough said that, in response to information compiled during an initial survey conducted by the West Virginia Department of Education, 226 Fayette County Schools employees 50-and-over originally indicated they would take the vaccine. Since then, more than 100 additional school system employees have said they want the vaccine, as well.

Hough estimated Wednesday that Fayette would need in the vicinity of 700 to 800 vaccines overall.

Friday's vaccinations, which were provided through Walgreens, were slated to cover the large majority of the 226 who initially signed up. With the Moderna vaccine, a second booster shot will be administered in 28 days.

Gauley Bridge Elementary School special education teacher Vivian Higgins was among the first wave of school personnel to get their initial dose of the vaccine on Friday. Later that day, she said she had experienced little negative reaction to the shot. On Saturday morning, the only discomfort she indicated was a "mildly sore" arm.

Of her thoughts prior to taking the shot, Higgins said, "I probably was just a little bit nervous, but the reasons to take it overweigh fears I'm having."

"We miss teaching our students face-to-face, but the safety of our students and staff is very important when considering bringing us back," added Higgins, who has taught for about 30 years.

With not being scheduled to take the second round of her vaccine until early February, Higgins said she's not overly concerned about a planned return to the classroom on Jan. 19.

"No, not as long as we wear our masks or shields," she said. "I want the kids back; we all want the kids back.

"We want it to be safe for us and for them."

Higgins said Friday's vaccination effort was "very well organized."

In a recent Covid-19 press briefing, Justice revealed that elementary and middle school students will return to in-person learning five days a week on Jan. 19. Students in grades 9-12 will also return to in-person instruction five days a week at that time if their county is not in red. Fayette County was in orange on the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources' daily map on Jan. 11.

Additional planning has had to occur for the safe return of teachers and students to the classrooms, Hough said. Among the changes will be classroom scenarios which will have to be re-designed to allow students and teachers safely into classrooms under existing social distancing guidelines.

Hough said Wednesday he expects a plan to be released this coming week.

• • •

The Fayette County Board of Education conducted a special work session on Thursday, Jan. 7. At the work session, board members heard a report from Fayette County Health Officer Dr. Anita Stewart. While discussing various issues with Hough, board members and central office staff, Stewart provided a handout which broke down the number of positive Fayette Covid-19 cases by school age groups in the blended model from Sept. 5, 2020 to Jan. 7. In that span, there were 162 total cases in ages 3-18. Of those, 21 18-year-olds received a positive diagnosis, followed by 17 17-year-olds, 14 11-year-olds, 13 15-year-olds and 11 12-year-olds.

A percent breakdown by age groups was as follows: 3-5 — 16 percent; 6-9 — 20 percent; 10-13 — 27 percent; and 14-18 — 37 percent. "We are seeing Covid cases in kids; they tend to be mild," said Stewart. She said the health department hasn't broken down cases involving school staff, but can do so if necessary.

The continuing rise in incidences of overall community disease transmission is a problem, however. "The amount of incidence in our community is quite concerning," Stewart said.

"I think that (numbers) are going to continue to rise (due to Christmas and New Year's gatherings) ... by the behaviors we're hearing about in our communities. I wish I had better news for you about the outlook in our communities, but that's where we stand currently."

On Jan. 9, FCS announced single Covid-19 cases at New River Primary and Fayette Institute of Technology. On Jan. 6, single cases were revealed at Oak Hill high and middle schools and FIT. None of the cases was believed to have arisen from inside transmission, officials said.

In response to questioning during the evening, Stewart said, "For the most part, we've done a great job in Fayette County (keeping students and staff safe)."

She said that, especially with the current high incidence rate, contact tracing school cases can be difficult, but there have been "a couple instances" which involved transmission inside the school setting, including one case of teacher-to-teacher transmission, as well as two other classroom situations.

"I think contact tracing, especially with the community spread that we have right now, is a nightmare," said board member Marion Tanner. "I can't imagine what it would be like if we send all these kids back to school five days a week." Social distancing would be an issue, Tanner said.

Anna Kincaid-Cline, the associate superintendent of curriculum/technology/instruction, admitted contact tracing is "very time-consuming" and "at times disheartening." Looking ahead, it "would be a big challenge" depending on how many students are involved in certain classroom scenarios or buses, she said.

After hearing from Stewart and Fayette County Health Department Administrator Teri Harlan, the board adjourned into executive session, and no action was taken afterwards.

The local board will meet in regular session on Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 6 p.m. Among the agenda items is a coronavirus report from the superintendent and possible board action.

The West Virginia Board of Education will meet virtually on Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 11 a.m. in Capitol Building 6, Room 353, 1900 Kanawha Boulevard, East, Charleston, West Virginia. Only required staff will be allowed in the meeting room.

The meeting agenda may be accessed at http://wvde.state.wv.us/minutes/current/AGENDA1.htm. The agenda includes possible motions and action on resumption of in-person instruction and school recovery planning.

A live audio stream of the meeting will be available at http://wvde.state.wv.us/boe/live.html.

Delegations are welcome to submit written comments no later than 3 p.m. on Jan. 12 to: West Virginia Board of Education, Capitol Building 6, Room 351, 1900 Kanawha Boulevard East, Charleston, WV 25305, or via email at vharris@k12.wv.us.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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