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Racine's public health administrator urges virtual learning in second quarter of 2020

Racine's public health administrator urges virtual learning in second quarter of 2020

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RACINE — The city’s public health administrator is urging districts to teach students virtually in the second quarter of this school year.

In a Thursday press release, Dottie-Kay Bowersox strongly recommended that students learn from home until data suggests that it’s safe for kids to return to in-person learning.

As Wisconsin continues to be in the top three hot spots for COVID-19 in the country, Racine County and the City of Racine also continue to experience high caseloads of the virus. The regional medical systems continue to see an increase in hospitalizations and school systems are seeing increases in COVID-19 positive students and faculty.

“COVID-19 cases are spread throughout the school systems within this jurisdiction,” Bowersox said in the statement. “Cases are presenting in children who are learning in person, staff who are teaching both in person and virtually, and in high-risk sports activities at schools. The Public Health Department understands the pressures schools are facing to return to in-person learning or to stay in person.

She continued, “It is understood that in-person learning is ultimately best for families, and virtual learning puts enormous pressure on parents in an already difficult time. At the same time, Wisconsin remains a COVID-19 hot spot in the nation, Racine County just hit the heartbreaking milestone of 100 deaths from COVID-19, and our job is to issue recommendations that put the health of the community first. Based on the current data and experiences, if Racine Unified brings back 17,000 students, the spread of the virus could not be controlled. With that in mind, I am NOT ordering, but I am strongly recommending that schools teach virtually for the time being.”

As decisions are weighed by both public and private school systems, the Public Health Department wants to make the school systems and the public aware of its recommendations. Should school systems choose to re-open or stay open, the Health Department will continue to partner with them on their re-opening plans.

Over the past few months, the Public Health Department has been engaged with the various school systems as cases and exposure to COVID-19 continues to persist with their staff, students, and parents.

As of publication of the press release:

  • There had been 69 positive cases among students, teachers, and other staff within schools and related buildings within Racine Public Health Department’s jurisdiction;
  • 27 schools had a positive or probable case identified in the building; this equates to approximately 69% of the schools within the city’s jurisdiction, which include Racine, Elmwood Park and Wind Point;
  • There had been six confirmed outbreaks involving more than 20 cases:
  • Outbreaks have been tied to school-related social gatherings and extracurricular sports-related activities;
  • Some outbreaks resulted in entire classrooms being transitioned to their school’s “learn from home” model due to exposures;
  • More than 300 individuals had been exposed to a COVID-19 positive person and were or are currently required to quarantine;
  • Because the area’s largest district is currently teaching virtually, COVID cases among school-age children within the city’s jurisdiction are not increasing at the rate seen where large school districts are open for in-person instruction;
  • Racine County currently has a “Very High” disease activity and burden as classified by the state Department of Health Services;
  • Racine County ranks 18th out of 72 counties for COVID-19 Case Rate per 100,000 individuals.

“I understand these are difficult decisions for school leaders. At the same point, when looking at the data and contact tracing results, the recommendation to be virtual is prudent and responsible. Regardless of what schools choose to do, the City of Racine Public Health Department remains committed to supporting them during this difficult time,” Bowersox said.

Racine Educators United, Racine Unified’s teachers union, called on Tuesday for continued virtual schooling in the second quarter, which begins Nov. 9. Racine Unified is set to announce its second-quarter plans on Monday.

Private schools within the city health department jurisdiction started the school year in person.

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