Wake County Schools

'They sit 3 feet apart:' At least 8 students with COVID at Wake elementary school

Posted July 26, 2021 4:32 p.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2021 7:56 p.m. EDT

— Officials with Wake County schools have confirmed a COVID cluster in one of their elementary schools. The cases are in students who recently returned for in-person year-round learning.

With COVID-19 cases climbing overall in the state, and some schools already back in session, cases in the classroom seem all but inevitable. Doctors fear the situation could only get worse as more students return in a few weeks for traditional school.

Wake County public schools alerted parents and staff about 8 new cases of COVID at Turner Creek Road Elementary School last week.

Those students are out of class for now. However, the cluster impacts other members of the campus community as well -- as so many other students have to quarantine due to potential exposure.

WRAL spoke with three parents, each who have a student out on quarantine, who wanted to share their concerns and frustrations about what they are witnessing in the school. For fear of backlash, they spoke anonymously.

One parent, whose daughter is now stuck quarantining away from school, is so frustrated she's considering removing her daughter from school. She estimates between 50 and 100 other kids are having to quarantine as well.

"She'd only been in school two weeks," said the mother. Now, she's having to quarantine for about as long as she'd been in class.

She said she's not surprised to see COVID spreading at the school.

"They have four desks pushed together. So not only are they less than 3 feet from one another, but they're facing each other," she said.

She also feels the school has not been transparent in how they alert families about the clusters.

"So if you're traditional, you have no idea this is going on. If you're track four, you have no idea this is going on," she said. "So you can't make an informed decision."

WRAL reached out to Wake County Public Schools to get an exact number of students out on quarantine. An official responded, “We don’t keep records of quarantines.”

WCPSS also reported a COVID-19 cluster at Lufkin Road Middle School on Thursday.

These parents think students should be required to wear masks both in and outdoors. Right now, it’s just inside. They also think kids need to be spaced further apart in the classroom.

Doctors say COVID clusters could be inevitable

North Carolina has reported 5,400 new cases since Friday, topping 2,000 new cases on Saturday alone, bringing the state's positivity rate soaring back up to 8.6%.

Classroom COVID cases could become commonplace, especially with the surging numbers and extra contagious Delta variant.

"I think the best way to try to handle these school outbreaks, which are going to be inevitable, is to try to reduce their frequency," said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease expert at UNC Health.

The best way to minimize spread? Wearing a mask, he says.

"Anyone 3 years of age and over should be masked in a school. Will it be perfect? No. Will there be breakthroughs? Yes," he said. " Will it decrease the number of schools that have to shut down? Yes."

Currently Wake County Schools requires masks for all students and staff on all campus. School board chair Keith Sutton says the board was considering following the advice of the state, which is to require masks for K-8th graders, and make masks optional for vaccinated staff and students at the high school level. However, given the surge in cases he tells WRAL News that they may keep masks required for all regardless of vaccination status.

The topic will be up for discussion on Aug. 3 on the Wake County school board meeting.

Wohl said the FDA's current time line to give emergency approval for the vaccine for kids under 12 early next year is too slow, especially with kids returning to school. He said approval needs to happen now.

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