Poplar Bluff: Lower grades see COVID increases

Thursday, November 19, 2020

As the number of students out of school for COVID-related issues dropped in the upper levels of the Poplar Bluff R-I School District, there’s been a spike at the lower levels.

Dr. Scott Dill, superintendent, said the main campuses right now are the Early Childhood Center and O’Neal Elementary.

As of Tuesday, early childhood had three active cases, the kindergarten center one, Eugene Field Elementary zero, Lake Road Elementary three, O’Neal Elementary nine and Oak Grove Elementary zero.

About three weeks ago, the school board approved a mask mandate for grades four and up. At the time, about 10% of those with the district were out either with a positive test or through contact tracing.

“That immediately went down almost 3%. We’re back up around 5% right now,” Dill said.

As of Tuesday, 329 people were out for quarantine at the various campuses.

“You put that all together and that’s just about a building,” Dill said.

Dill said he’s hopeful the upcoming break will help taper the current outbreaks back down.

“I’m not ready to request an expansion of that (mask policy) at this time,” he said.

If rates continue to rise in those areas, Dill said, he won’t hesitate to ask the board for a change to the current policy.

“I know that can be problematic with the little ones,” he said. “But we are going to do whatever it takes to keep our doors open.”

The district does still have cases at the upper levels. The middle school has 10 active cases, the junior high has seven, and the high school has five.

Based on data released by the district, these are still lower than they were before the mask requirement or are a recent spike.

For instance, data released Nov. 13 had the middle school with two active cases, the junior high with 16 and the high school with four.

At the same time, O’Neal Elementary had 14 and the Early Childhood Center had three. Earlier, the elementary schools would have one or two positive cases, if any, district officials said.

Previously, the school board suggested looking into alternatives to masks for the younger students, such as plexiglass barriers between desks.

Dill said the administration is looking into that, but they’ve taken steps over recent years to have students out of their desks and active more.

“We spent years breaking away from traditional classroom architecture and instructional atmosphere,” he said previously. “They don’t just sit neatly in rows doing worksheets. They’re interactive and they work cooperatively.”

Butler County

The case numbers are not limited to the R-I school district.

The Butler County Health Department announced 35 new COVID-19 cases Thursday afternoon, which brings the total of cases since the end of March up to 2,389.

So far in November, there’s been an increase of 349 cases following the 906 announced in October.

October was the month with the single highest increase for the county since the pandemic began.

Health officials attributed the increase to mass testing events held weekly since the beginning of October by the health department.

The Missouri National Guard also held several.

The next is scheduled for today from noon until 6 p.m. at Whiteley Park.

Gov. Mike Parson is expected to release updated information about possible guidance within the next week.

Missouri reached 257,822 cases Thursday with a 23.7% positivity rate.