Schools monitor COVID; optimistic for year

By Amber Barker

As schools in Lincoln Parish gear up for the 2022-23 year, there is a sense of excitement mixed with continued precautions while still balancing the COVID-19 guidelines and protocols. Seemingly, there’s more optimism – with the numbers to back it – as primary and secondary schools, as well as Grambling State University have gotten underway, and Louisiana Tech kicking off in a few short weeks. 

“We use the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) community level data to track community transmission. Currently Lincoln Parish has medium transmission. Last fall all of our institutions were in communities with high transmission,” said Cami Geisman, Vice President for External Affairs & Chief of Staff for the University of Louisiana System. “We also closely monitor hospitalizations which have thankfully remained low with this current surge.”

According to the Louisiana Department of Health as of Aug. 24, Lincoln Parish’s medium community level included total cases of just under 14,000, with reinfections at 1,096 and deaths at 151. Vaccinations initiated stand at 22,972 with 20,458 of those completed, and just slightly over 5,520 people boosted.

Geisman noted that during the past two fall starts the University of Louisiana System has had detailed system-level guidance for operation during COVID-19, and that this semester they shared the CDC’s latest guidance to ensure institutions are up to speed on the latest recommendations.

“Fall 2022 will look much more like Fall 2019. Still, we remain in a pandemic and are prepared to be nimble and continue to anticipate the needs of our university communities,” she said. “As it has been since the beginning, the health of our students, faculty and staff, and our communities at large is our paramount concern.” 

With move-in starting the weekend before Labor Day and classes beginning Sept. 8, Louisiana Tech will continue to have hand sanitizer stations available on campus, keep masks optional and will follow the CDC’s updated guidelines.

“The new CDC guidelines are a lot different than they have been in the past, with the protocol largely stating that if someone is positive, they isolate five days,” said Tonya Oaks Smith, Executive Director of University Communications and Marketing at Louisiana Tech University. 

In addition, the CDC states: If after five days you are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication, and your symptoms are improving, or you never had symptoms, you may end isolation after day five. Regardless of when you end isolation, avoid being around people who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19 until at least day 11. You should wear a high-quality mask through day 10.

Oaks Smith also stated that Tech will follow the LDH vaccination protocol, which requires all college students provide proof of vaccination according to the appropriate vaccination protocols, a doctor’s letter noting the medical reasons for not taking the vaccine, or a letter of dissent to receiving the vaccine. She added that while masks are not required on campus, individuals are welcome to wear them if they choose.

While Cedar Creek School, which began classes Aug. 18, also does not require masks, Head of School Cindy Hampton said they do undergo temperature checks every morning as an added precaution to CDC guidelines.

“We look about the same as we did at the end of last year, with the exception of taking temperatures. We’re trying to head it off if at all possible, and we have the temperature scanners so why not use them,” Hampton said. “We’re constantly wiping down doorknobs and encouraging teachers to wipe down desks. Anything we can do, we are trying to do, not just for COVID but for flu season too, as well as help prevent staph as our athletic competitions start back up. We’re encouraging everyone to sanitize as much as possible.”

At Ruston High School, where the first full week of classes began Aug. 22, Principal Dan Gressett noted they are back to as normal as they can be during a pandemic.

“Were still encouraging kids to sanitize regularly and teachers to sanitize high touch surfaces. We’re still taking precautions to make sure students and staff are safe – still encouraging parents if their kids are sick to keep them home, and (while at school) if they are showing symptoms to let the nurse know,” Gressett said. “It looks a lot different than two years ago; we’re back to eating in the cafeteria and back to about as normal as we can be.”