JEFFERSON — Ashe County Schools held a special called meeting at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6, to reevaluate the reopening plans for its schools.
Health Director at AppHealthCare Jennifer Greene was present to provide updates about COVID-19 in Ashe County and the results of the county’s free testing event on Aug. 1.
Greene said out of the 370 people who were tested, there were 19 positive results, or about 5 percent.
According to Greene, this is a lower percentage than that of statewide positive test results.
“If you look at our percent positive, we are hovering somewhere between 4 and 5 percent for the county overall on the state website,” Greene said.
Also present during the meeting were Director of Human Resources/Public Information Officer Roy Putman; Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox, Chairman C.B. Jones, Vice Chairman Dr. Lee Beckworth, board members Dianne Eldreth, Keith McClure and Polly Jones and Director of K-12 Curriculum/Federal Programs Julie Taylor.
Greene also detailed demographic information, dated July 30, associated with COVID-19.
The data provided by AppHealthCare displayed that the percentages of those infected in Ashe County men accounted for 52 percent and women accounted for 48 percent.
According to data compiled by AppHealthCare, people between ages 50 and 64 account for 31 percent, which is the highest percentage of people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
The 27-45 age group is not far behind and accounts for 27 percent of positive tests.
Ages zero to 17 and ages 18-24 both account for 10 percent of Ashe County’s population that has tested positive for COVID-19.
Fifteen percent of those testing positive for the virus who live in the county are ages 65-74.
Only 7 percent of community members who have tested positive are 75 or older.
When asked about how many of the 19 who tested positive at the event on Aug. 1 were symptomatic, Greene said very few experienced symptoms.
“I would say, that’s what we’ve seen as a trend,” Greene said. “There are some folks who for whatever reason have very mild symptoms perhaps it’s like a cold, other folks are pretty sick and they know it and they have fever and other symptoms that are concerning.”
Greene added that they are receiving more reports from people with symptoms including diarrhea and nausea than they did in previous months.
Following the reports and updates by Greene, Cox presented some research she completed to kick off a discussion about school reopening plans.
She revisited the data from the survey results from parents regarding whether or not they were more comfortable with their child receiving in-person instruction or participating in virtual learning.
According to Cox, the numbers have remained consistent with 30 percent of parents preferring strictly online instruction for their children and the other 70 percent showed preference for Plans A or B.
Greene said overall, they have found that face coverings are more effective than face shields.
“I think that in general, the face shield should not be seen as a replacement unless that’s the only option,” Greene said. “And if that is the only option for the medical reasons of the child, than it is better than not having anything on.”
Beckworth said fear would be the only reason he could see the school system not reopening under Plan B on Aug. 17.
“I think the county and the community should be reassured by the relationship that we have with Appalachian District Health Department,” Beckworth said.
He added that the school system has spent a tremendous amount of time and money trying to prepare for the fact that the virus will be around for a while but life has to go on.
Eldreth said she disagreed with the use of the word “fear.” She feels it is more about her concern about whether or not they are making the best decision while considering everything surrounding the virus.
Polly Jones spoke more about the results of the parent surveys during the conversation about ACS reopening plans.
She said that parents have been given the choice of whether or not they would like their child to return to school under Plan B or Plan C. She added that she Central Office staff, school principals and Cox have done everything humanly possible for students to return to school safely.
Jones said that in her career in local education, she has always put students first and continues to do so.
“This is not an easy decision, no matter what decision we make we are not going to please everybody,” Jones said. “We have to make a hard decision, but I say that parents of Ashe County made the decision when they filled out that survey.”
After more than an hour of discussion, Beckworth made a motion that they reaffirm their commitment to Plan B. This was followed by a second by McClure.
The final vote was 4-1 with Eldreth in opposition.
Additional information concerning case counts in Ashe County, demographic information and other data associated with COVID-19 is available on AppHealthCare’s website at apphealthcare.com