PRINCETON — With students in all area school systems now receiving in-person instruction, some require temperature checks in the morning of all students and staff, and some don’t.

Mercer and McDowell counties do not, following the suggestions of the state.

However, Monroe County as well as Tazewell, Bland and Giles on the Virginia side do take temps in the mornings before school.

Dr. Ayne Amjad, West Virginia’s Health Officer and head of the Bureau of Public Health, said recently temperature checks in schools are not an effective screening tool and not recommended.

“In schools, they are not doing it routinely for school-age children because the CDC (Center of Disease Control) does not recommend it as a way to screen kids before entering the school system,” she said. “Schools are not implementing that in their reentry program.”

Parents are advised if their child is not feeling well to not let them come to school, she said, but the CDC is not recommending temperature checks at school.

“Some smaller schools may use it (temp checks) on their own, but I am not fully aware of that,” she said.

Julie Lilly is a nurse with Mercer County Schools and said Mercer County schools do not take temperatures of students or staff in the morning as some school systems do.

“It is not recommended by the CDC,” she said. “It’s not part of our reentry plan … It is also labor intensive.”

In order to be screened for a possible case, symptoms like loss of taste or smell, shortness or breath, a cough (not related to a known illness or condition like asthma), are looked for.

Protocol is in place to handle any suspected case, she said, and any student who exhibits symptoms a temperature will be taken at that time as part of the routine procedure.

Lilly said if a student is sent home with COVID-like symptoms, parents can see their primary care provider and test or quarantine the student for 14 days.

“If they see a doctor and have an alternative diagnosis (another illness that caused the symptoms) they must get a medical release to come back to school,” she said.

If they are out for 10 days they can get a COVID test and a negative will allow them back, but with no test they must quarantine for 14 days.

The same procedure applies to staff as well, and anyone in quarantine must have a medical release before returning.

Shannon Hardee, nursing director of the McDowell County Department of Social Services, said that county’s schools do not take students’ temperatures before entering the school.

“They follow the recommended guidelines,” she said, adding that a similar protocol is in place as in Mercer County to look for symptoms and handle any suspect cases.

Staff at schools self-monitor their temperatures along with any other symptoms.

In Tazewell County, temperatures of staff are not taken in the mornings because they self-monitor, but all students’ temps are taken each day.

“Every student in our schools is checked at least one time a day,” said Lindsey Akers, public relations director for the school system. “We recently purchased 500 thermometers so that we could have multiple ones in each school. We think is of the utmost importance. Students with temperatures are sent to the quarantine room in their school until they can be picked up. They can’t return without a physician’s note saying that it is safe for them to return.”

Laura Radford, supervisor of student services with Bland County Schools, said, as in West Virginia, Virginia school divisions have the option to take temps.

“It depends on each school system and their plans,” she said. “We included it in our reopening plans.”

Radford said temps are taken of everyone before they enter the building as routine procedure and it has worked out well.

“I have not heard any complaints about it,” she said.

Jesse Glover, school health coordinator for Giles County Schools, said the decision on the temperature checks was made as part of the county’s reopening plans.

“It is just one of the many facets that could help catch something,” she said. “It is not always a symptom of COVID-19, but it can be, so we use everything that helps.”

Glover said a teacher’s assistant rides buses and takes temps as students get on the bus. Others who are dropped by parents or, in high school, drive to school must get a check as they enter the door. Hand-held thermometers are used and are very quick.

That check is required of all visitors as well.

“It does take time,” she said, but the school system wants to do all it can to possibly detect COVID or any other illness.

But Glover said the entire COVID experience is new for everyone.

“There are no clear answers about anything,” she said. “We are doing as much as we can and we found a way to get it done. We have a good system at the moment. Hopefully, things don’t change again.”

Bland County and Monroe County have not had any confirmed positive cases in schools and Giles and Mercer counties have no current active cases with students, but did have isolated cases initially.

Tazewell County recently had an outbreak in schools in the Bluefield, Va. area and 100 students and staff at several schools remain under quarantine.

McDowell County has confirmed one positive case recently and protocol is being followed.

West Virginia includes outbreaks (considered at least two linked positive cases in a school) on a list of specific schools displayed on the state Department of Education’s website.

As of Friday, there were 19 outbreaks in schools across the state with a total of 46 confirmed cases, with almost all of the schools listing only two or three positives.

Virginia only reports totals in health districts and does not specify the school, which is left up to the localities.

 

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com.

 

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