(INDIANAPOLIS) — Marion County middle and high schools will have to keep classrooms half full if they reopen, and nearly all of them will have to use e-learning at least part of the time.
Marion County Health Department director Virginia Caine says until the rate of positive coronavirus tests in Marion County goes down, middle and high schools will have to keep classrooms half full. She’s ordering middle and high schools with more than 400 students to go to a hybrid of in-person and online classes, with students on some form of split shift between the two.
That enrollment threshold would cover every traditional public high school in the county except Ben Davis University High School, and all but 10 middle schools, nine of them in IPS. Those schools would have the option of holding classes in person if they can spread students out enough to maintain social distancing.
Caine says Marion County’s positivity rate is averaging around 9%. The Indiana State Department of Health places the seven-day average lower, at 8.3%. There wasn’t an immediate explanation of the discrepancy, but either figure is above Caine’s threshold of 5% for operating schools normally.
If the average goes above 10%, Caine says she’ll recommend that middle and high schools close. At
13%, she recommends closing grade schools too.
Caine says cases among kids younger than 11 have been virtually nonexistent, and research indicates children that age are also less likely to transmit the virus to others. But Caine says 1.1% of the county’s cases since the start of the pandemic are high school age, and students that age do run the risk of being carriers. She says the percentage of cases among people under 40 has nearly doubled.
Caine is deferring a decision on high school sports to the Indiana High School Athletic Association, which announced Wednesday it would let all sports go forward. But Caine warns she’ll be watching virus data closely over the next few weeks, and says that could change if rates go up. She cautions students will play a big role in whether there’s a full season, by how diligent they are about wearing masks and following other health precautions.
Caine says Marion County contact tracing indicates the mass protests and riots after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis didn’t lead to a surge in coronavirus cases. She says the surge started with the reopening of bars and other loosened restrictions in mid-June, and particularly after additional restrictions were loosened on the Fourth of July. Caine says a Marion County mask requirement has begun to bend the curve down again.