COVID-19 levels rising at South Madison schools

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    PENDLETON — The level of COVID-19 spread for South Madison Community Schools is trending in the wrong direction.
    It could lead to schools moving to virtual learning as early as next week.
    On Monday, the school district went to Level 3 in its four-level coronavirus pandemic operational plan.
    At Level 3, the schools are still on their traditional schedule but with enhanced safety and social distancing protocols, which includes wearing masks/facial coverings.
    South Madison Community Schools Corp. Superintendent Mark Hall said the cases at their schools, in particular the secondary schools, have been very high.
    “We’ve had quite a few cases, particularly in the high school and middle school,” Hall said. “We’ve had a substantially higher number of positive cases. We have seen more the first couple of weeks than we saw the whole first quarter last year.”
    The district’s levels coincide with scores given to each county by the Indiana Department of Health. A score for the county is calculated by using the total number of new cases per week and the percentage of positive tests.

    Madison County has recently gone from Yellow (1 and 1.5 score) to Orange (2 and 2.5). The change to Level 3, Hall said, was based on the county score.
    Hall added if ever the in-person school population had a positive rate of more than 1% during a seven-day period, they would go to virtual learning (Level 4).
    “We would move to virtual (learning) to try to get everyone away from each other,” he said. “We would stay out for a week and see how cases go and go from that. If we would cross that 1% threshold, we’d move to that next week.
    “We’re definitely approaching the 1%. We’re getting close to that.”
    If a decision is made to go to virtual learning, Hall said it would be announced Thursday (today).
    “All of our teachers, administrators, staff and school board — everybody is committed to keep it going, but it’s certainly a different environment than we had last year,” Hall added.
    The school district, in July, approved its pandemic operational plan for the 2021-22 school year. Initially, schools opened with masks/face coverings optional in classrooms and to only be required for staff and students when riding school buses, a federal public transportation mandate.
    Hall said the federal mandate was scheduled to expire in September, but it has been extended to mid-January of 2022.