Scott County and Forest Municipal School students have been back in the classroom on a staggered or “hybrid” schedule for the last two weeks with in-class and virtual, or at home learning, combined. Both districts will continue in that manner until mid-September. Last week county schools pushed back their start date for all students to return to class until September 11. City schools currently plan to return all students to campus on September 16.
At the same time, Governor Tate Reeves has issued a new executive order extending a statewide face mask mandate and setting guidelines limiting attendance at high school extracurricular events.
The governor’s order extended the social distancing measures until Monday, August 31 at 8:00 AM. The governor also amended the Safe Return order, placing an attendance cap on all K-12 extracurricular activities, such as football and band concerts, to no more than two spectators per participant. Each extracurricular event must have a dedicated safety officer to ensure all social distancing measures are followed as well.
“Sports and these other activities are instrumental in the lives of our young Mississippians,” Reeves said. “They teach discipline and responsibility in a way that can’t be replicated. That said, we are living through a pandemic. One of my greatest concerns heading into this school season has been sports and those other events which cause the community to come out in crowds. Twenty-two players on a field is not going to overwhelm a local hospital. Two thousand people in a small school’s bleachers might.”
Friday night football, however, could still face challenges due to COVID-19 outbreaks in the school systems. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs has repeatedly stated that an entire high school football team could, in theory, be quarantined for 14 days should a player be tested positive for the virus and that it is inevitable that all schools will eventually be reporting positive cases within their halls.
Monday Dobbs reported that there were 71 of Mississippi’s 82 counties reporting positive cases of COVID-19 in school systems with 245 teachers testing positive and 589 teachers in quarantine. A total of 199 students in the 71 counties had tested positive and 2,035 were in quarantine. Although the State Department of Health has yet to name individual schools in the 71 counties, Dobbs did say Scott County is included. School numbers, Dobbs said, will be released weekly on Mondays.
Last week Lackey Memorial Hospital CEO Sydney Sawyer, RN announced that the hospital was in the process of establishing some telemedicine and testing programs in the local schools and on Monday Gov. Reeves announced a plan to do the same statewide.
“If they get tested and they (students or teachers) don’t have anything we can send them back to class, but if they do we can get them out of the school,” Sawyer said at the time.
Reeves said Monday that he is expanding COVID-19 testing for all Mississippi teachers, even for those without symptoms, and emergency telehealth coverage through the Mississippi Division of Medicaid (DOM) to include schools.
“Today, as we work to ensure that children can achieve some quality learning in the state of Mississippi, we are announcing two measures to increase access to health care and COVID-19 prevention in schools. First, we are expanding school-based emergency telehealth coverage throughout the state of Mississippi,” Reeves said. “This will allow schools, even those without school nurses or school-based clinics, to access telehealth services. We also know that testing can allow us to prevent the spread of the virus by immediately identifying and isolating known cases. As teachers return to the classroom, we want to make it simple for them to get access to testing.”
This expanded testing for teachers will enable them to get tested at any point, even if they have not exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 or come in close contact with a known case.
Teachers will have three options for testing across Mississippi: at MSDH’s Jackson site at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, community sites across the state, as well as by rotating testing teams at their home county health department. Testing teams will rotate every two weeks at county health departments, where teachers can drive up and get tested.
As school districts and their communities tailored their plans to reopen schools safely, Reeves worked with DOM Executive Director Drew Snyder to help boost efforts to protect students, enabling schools without school nurses or school-based clinics to access telehealth services.
“Extending telehealth coverage has been a key part of ensuring access to care during this public health emergency,” Snyder said. “As children return to the classroom, increasing access in school settings is more important now than ever.”
Under this expansion of school-based emergency telehealth coverage, schools are approved as temporary telehealth originating site providers on the condition that services are facilitated by a telepresenter acting within their scope of practice and license and/or certification.
Telehealth services are traditionally delivered by an enrolled Mississippi Medicaid provider located at a distant site to a beneficiary located at an originating site, such as a clinic. DOM’s telehealth policy already allowed school-based clinics — staffed by a physician, nurse practitioner, or a physician assistant providing well and sick care — to serve as an originating site for a beneficiary in need of services beyond the clinic’s abilities.
The amended Emergency Telehealth Policy allows any school to serve as the originating site as long as the distant site provider uses a telepresenter who meets the definition of Miss. Admin. Code Part 225, Rule 1.1.D. Telepresenters can include registered nurses employed by a school/school district or staff employed by a Rural Health Clinic, a Federally Qualified Health Clinic, or private provider.
Over the weekend the daily positive cases of COVID-19 trended downward, bottoming out at only 276 positive cases reported Monday. In Tuesday’s report, however, the number of positive cases jumped back up to 795 new cases with 34 deaths bringing the statewide total of positive reported cases of the virus to 73,207 since the first reported case on March 11 with 2,128 deaths. In Scott County there have been 1,040 positive cases reported and 21 deaths since March 11, a gain of 29 cases and one death since the same time last week.