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Virus outbreak strikes school central office

South Boston News
The closure notice at the HCPS Central Office / October 15, 2020
Four employees at the Halifax County School Board Central Office in Halifax have tested positive for COVID-19, prompting Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg to postpone today’s scheduled meeting of the School Board until Oct. 26.

Trustees were expected to continue their ongoing discussions on a phased return of student groups to the classroom at the October monthly meeting. Instead, that conversation has been put on hold as school officials cope with the outbreak this week involving Central Office employees. No students have been affected.

“We knew this was going to be a bumpy ride,” said Lineburg.

The Central Office, located in a portion of the Bethune Office Complex in Halifax, is closed until further notice. Lineburg said the building area will be sanitized and deep-cleaned to prevent further spread of the virus. All employees have been sent home — where they are either working remotely, or are in quarantine after being exposed to the virus.

Lineburg confirmed that four staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, although that number could rise as more test results come back. The superintendent said he plans to get tested today.

Of the individuals who have been infected, all are showing some symptoms of the disease, said Lineburg. He heaped praise on the Central Office staff: “This is the best group I’ve worked with in my entire life, at this office. They give their heart and soul to what they do … This conversation is not about anything other than that.

“It’s a human reaction that everybody is worried about each other. Nobody wants anyone to get sick.”

Lineburg also confirmed that COVID-19 has surfaced at Scottsburg Elementary, where one employee has tested positive and several others are isolating at home after being exposed to the virus. Under CDC guidelines, contact tracing is conducted for close contacts — whenever any individual comes within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes. The CDC recommends that exposed persons self-quarantine for 14 days, even if they receive a negative covid test result.

No students have been affected at Scottsburg, and the elementary facility remains open, with cleaning and contact tracing ongoing inside the building.

Lineburg said the more widespread issue at the Central Office first became apparent last Thursday when an employee developed symptoms: “We saw we had our first case. You work your way through it.” Lineburg said he contacted the health department on Thursday or Friday to report the illness.

Since then, “it seems we have a conversation every day with a Virginia Department of Health official.”

The outbreak at the Central Office has not yet shown up in the VDH online reporting system that tracks the virus’ daily spread in the state. The Southside Health District, which spans Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties, has confirmed 14 outbreaks in the area. That umber has not changed in weeks.

But Lineburg said there is no question that the Central Office has now become an outbreak site, defined by the health department as a congregant setting where two or more persons test positive. “That’s how we’re treating it,” he said.

In a media release announcing the School Board meeting postponement, Lineburg wrote, “An increase in COVID-19 cases in our community has affected our workforce.” Asked if the reference is to a reported surge in cases at Halifax County Country Club and Green’s Folly Golf Course, Lineburg said it uncertain how the virus found its way to the school administrative office.

“My indication from our folks is that it came from community spread that is connected to community functions,” he said. Of the possible linkage to golfing circles, “that’s certainly been talked about. But I don’t think that’s anything that you can know for sure. It’s a possibility.”

Southside Health District environmental health specialists have begun an investigation into the virus’ spread at one of the golf courses in Halifax County, according to Brookie Crawford, a spokesperson for the VDH Central Region. The SSHD received a complaint on Oct. 12 related to a country club in the county. The department is not identifying the club by name.

The complaint stated that employees and customers were not wearing cloth face coverings and people in the establishment were not following social distancing guidelines.

Crawford stated that both local golf clubs are permitted food establishments and subject to semi-annual inspections by the local health department. The health department’s emphasis in possible outbreak situations is to try to determine what happened and guide a response that protect the health and safety of individuals.

“VDH’s focus is on outreach and education; as such it attempts to influence voluntary compliance. Most operations, by far, are trying to do the right thing,” she wrote in an email response.

School Board vice chair and ED-3 trustee Sandra Garner-Coleman said members of the board discussed the situation at the Central Office with Lineburg on Monday, at which time the decision was made to postpone the Thursday meeting until Oct. 26.

Although trustees have clashed over when to reopen schools that have been shuttered by the pandemic, she said there was no disagreement on the need to delay the board meeting.

“This is extraordinary. Even though we didn’t have a meeting, everybody was on the same page,” she said.

Garner-Coleman, who has consistently voted against returning students to school, said the Central Office outbreak underscores how things “can change in the twinkle of an eye.” She pleaded with members of the public to act to prevent the spread of the virus. “Just wear a freakin’ mask. That’s the way I feel about it.

“I don’t know what the big deal is with a mask. That sure has gone south,” Garner-Coleman added.

For now, the delay of the School Board meeting has one immediate impact: pushing back any potential reopening of schools for the broad majority of county students. Only a small group of special education learners and SVHEC Career Tech students have been allowed to return to classrooms.

“It’s already thrown us off the timetable” for allowing more student groups to return to school, said Lineburg. “It absolutely changes it, for sure.”

Central Office and school staff have been waiting for a decision by trustees to invite small groups back to school, such as English learners, homeless students and those without internet, leading up to the hoped-for return of students in grades pre-K through 3. The quickest any of those decisions can come is now Oct. 26 instead of Oct. 15.

“We’ll need two weeks [after that] to get ready for the change,” Lineburg said.

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Coronavirus was discovered in the 1960's we just have a new strain. Of those that tested positive for it, how many are sick? I have never seen people so willing to destroy lives, businesses and the country for a new form of flu, that if had imo left to run it course, we would have been over it by now.


Right, so the entire world got together to create a scam to affect American businesses and politics. Lol. That’s a good one. Do a bit more googling. This strain of coronavirus is a little more deadly. It’s not going to run it’s course. Do some more reading. Scientists have said that herd immunity is not going to work in this situation. There’s too much free information out there for you to not know the truth. Educate yourself.

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