HANCOCK COUNTY — With COVID-19 protocols now up to individual school systems, a sense of normalcy is on the horizon for Mt. Vernon, where different requirements would only go into effect should illness drive up absences.
Schools across the state had been operating under directives in one of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s executive orders that had been in place through June 30, which included requirements regarding face coverings, isolation and quarantining to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Holcomb issued an executive order on Wednesday, June 30, extending the public health emergency spurred by the pandemic through July 31, and another rescinding all pandemic-related directives in previous orders while also outlining directives to support the state’s health care system and vaccination program.
Mt. Vernon recently set new health, safety and facilities protocols for the 2021-20 school year based on a tiered color system.
Jack Parker, the school district’s superintendent, emphasized that protocols are subject to change based on anything the state would mandate.
“If we don’t have to, if we’re not required, we will not be wearing masks next year,” Parker said at a recent school board meeting. “Only in an incredibly rare, potential, possible situation where the absence rates due to illness would climb very, very high.”
The new system also states procedures are contingent on any guidance from the Hancock County Health Department. It’s designed for all types of absences due to any illness, not just COVID-19.
Mt. Vernon intends to start its upcoming school year in the first tier, colored in green and outlining routine cleaning as well as no limitations or adaptations.
“If things continue to improve, these are the expectations that we plan on living by when the school year starts next year,” Mt. Vernon operations director Derek Shelton said at the school board’s May meeting. “We’re going to start the year being normal.”
Blue represents an absentee rate of 12% due to combined illness of students and staff in an individual building. Additional sanitizing procedures would start in the building, including daily sanitizing of surfaces and often-touched objects. Water fountain use would be restricted, and students would need to use a water bottle or cup.
Yellow represents an absentee rate of 14% due to combined illness of students and staff in a single building. Daily sanitizing would continue. A practice called fogging would also begin in all buildings. Maria Bond, director of community relations for Mt. Vernon, told the Daily Reporter in an email that the school district’s foggers spray surfaces with a disinfectant that kills viruses and bacteria. Bond added the solution is organic, environmentally friendly, nontoxic, nonflammable, biodegradable and non-corrosive. It’s registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, she also said.
Under the yellow tier, fogging would also begin on buses between all routes when any school’s absentee rate reaches 14%. Students and staff in a building with such an absentee rate would not be required to wear masks, but they would be encouraged.
Orange represents an absentee rate of 16% due to combined illness of students and staff in a single building. Students and staff would be required to wear masks in the school. Deep cleaning of all surfaces would begin after all activities in the building and its classrooms. The building would be fogged daily.
Red means a 20% absentee rate from combined illness in a single building. The school corporation would consult with the Hancock County Health Department on possible closure.
The district also plans to deep clean during all extended breaks, as well as during flu season between October and March.
Holcomb’s rescinding of school COVID-19 directives and Mt. Vernon’s new protocols come as online petitions circulate among Hancock County residents calling for an end to masks, contact tracing and quarantining in schools.
Mt. Vernon’s 2020-21 academic year ended last month, and cases of the novel coronavirus reported in its schools were minimal throughout the final weeks, according to figures provided by the Indiana State Department of Health.
Hancock County continues to report few cases as well, with a seven-day moving average down to four cases a day.
More than 41,000 county residents age 12 and older have been fully vaccinated from the virus, nearly 62% of that population.
Other school districts in Hancock County continue to mull COVID-19 protocols as well. Eastern Hancock recently asked for parents’ input on the matter.
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“We’re going to start the year being normal.”
Director of operations, Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation
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COVID-19 data through early Thursday, July 1
- 127 new tests administered (June 15-30)
- 3 new cases (June 30)
- 2.4% seven-day positivity rate all tests, 8.8% cumulative rate
- 0 new deaths
- 115,371 total tests administered
- 8,608 total positive cases
- 6.5% seven-day positivity rate unique individuals, 18.9% cumulative rate
- 146 total deaths
- 41,201 fully vaccinated age 12 and older
- 12,947 new individuals tested (March 26, 2020-June 30, 2021), 2,505 new individuals tested
- 249 new cases (June 30)
- 2.2% seven-day positivity rate all tests, 8.4% cumulative rate
- 5 new deaths (Feb. 2-June 30)
- 10,866,905 total tests administered
- 754,317 total cases
- 5.4% seven-day positivity rate unique individuals, 21% cumulative rate
- 13,431 total deaths
- 424 total probable deaths
- Hospital census: 404 total COVID-19 patients, 220 confirmed, 184 under investigation
- 5,003 total variant cases
- 2,823,038 fully vaccinated age 12 and older