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COVID-19 now affects all Greencastle-Antrim schools

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot
All four schools in the Greencastle-Antrim School District are now affected by COVID-19.

COVID-19 is now affecting all four buildings in the Greencastle-Antrim School District, with positive cases among younger students reported late last week.

Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent, announced the first cases at the primary school, a first-grader, and the elementary school, a third-grader, in a letter to families on Thursday. On Saturday, the list grew with one student each in kindergarten and first, second and third grades.

All the cases involve children being exposed to someone positive in their homes. They are not believed to have been in contact with other children.

These cases come amid skyrocketing numbers locally and nationwide, with the U.S. passing the 11 million mark, according to the Associated Press.

More:Greencastle-Antrim wrestling season taken down by COVID-19

In the schools

The school district anticipated this surge in its COVID-19 reopening health and safety plan and is now in the process of making it easier for families to report exposure.

"As a school district, we remain committed to doing our best to keep children in school. If at any time we feel that we are unable to manage the increase in cases, we will move to a two-week virtual setting for any classroom, grade level, or building impacted," Hanks wrote. "We know that those families that opted for in-person instruction have done so with great faith and trust in our school team and our health and safety plan. We thank you for your confidence and will continue to care for every child as though they were our own."

More:COVID cases concentrated in G-A eighth grade, instruction moves online

More:Breaking news: Greencastle-Antrim High School going virtual as COVID concerns grow

Eighth-graders returned to Greencastle-Antrim Middle School Monday after two-weeks of all-virtual learning. Eighth-grade went online after numbers neared the threshold of 2 to 4% positive when virtual learning is recommended by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

Greencastle-Antrim High School is closed to in-person learning until after Thanksgiving after numbers surged early last week. As of Monday, Nov. 9, there were seven positive cases with dozens of other students exposed to the virus.

The G-A School District is not alone. Waynesboro Area Middle School, Chambersburg Area Senior High School, Chambersburg Area Middle School South and Washington County, Md., public schools are all closed.

"Please know that we have spent these 12 weeks of school better preparing for the possibility of virtual learning," Hanks wrote. "I am confident that should a transition be inevitable, you may actually be surprised and impressed with the quality of instruction that will continue. Every day that we are gifted with in-person learning enhances our ability to engage virtually. We will continue with two-week transitions to virtual learning as needed according to our plan but are at the mercy of this illness and will adhere to any directives given by the Department of Health."

Because numbers are expected to "rise rapidly in coming months," the district's website is being updated to make it easy for families to report cases. A "hotline" will deliver messages immediately to a contact person in each building. In the meantime, families can call the phone number of the appropriate school or email Hanks directly at:

lhanks@gcasd.org

The superintendent asked families to monitor children by taking temperatures daily and to keep them home if there are concerns about possible exposure or if they show symptoms.

There are a range of symptoms, which may appear two to 14 days after exposure, according to the CDC. They include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, losses of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.

"Stay strong and please trying to reduce large gatherings," Hanks concluded her Nov. 14 letter.

In the county
 

The school numbers mirror what is happening in the community, with more cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Franklin County.

There were 103 cases reported on Thursday, Nov. 12, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. That's the most cases reported in any one day since the pandemic began.

As of Thursday, there had been 561 total cases reported in Franklin County in November. It took 55 days to pass that number at the beginning of the pandemic after the first case was reported in the county on March 19.

For a big chunk of the summer, there were no new COVID-19 deaths in the county. There have been 21 since late August — and 11 of them between Nov. 1 and 12.

In addition, the two markers that the Department of Health looks at to rate the level of spread have also been going up.

Franklin County's positivity rate is the fourth highest in the state. For the period of Oct. 30 to Nov. 5, 12.3% of people who took a COVID-19 test received a positive result. That's an increase of two points over the previous seven-day period.

Bedford County holds the highest positivity rate, at 17.5% and the majority of the state's 67 counties have a positivity rate between 4 and 9%.

The incidence rate is the other critical marker. Franklin County's was at 175 cases per 100,000 people for the most recent period analyzed — compared to just over 116 cases in the previous seven days.

Ten counties have a higher incidence rate than Franklin.

The 14-day rolling average of daily hospitalizations was at 30.1 on Thursday — the highest since at least mid-June, which is as far back as the data goes in that category on the Department of Health website.

Sixty-one people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 as of Thursday at Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals, according to data from the health department and WellSpan Health. Fifty of the patients were at Chambersburg Hospital.

The number of people hospitalized across all of WellSpan's hospitals in central Pennsylvania — 181 — "is more than triple the number of WellSpan patients hospitalized back in April and a significant increase from just last month," according to a news release on Wednesday.


Stop the spread 
 

As the holiday season nears, WellSpan Health leaders say the time is now for people to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“With positive cases on the rise headed into the holidays, we’re concerned that family gatherings and other traditions could continue to contribute to the growing trend,” said Anthony Aquilina, executive vice president and chief physician executive at WellSpan Health. “It’s important we each take the time to practice safe, healthy behaviors. A little goes a long way.”

Dr. Raghavendra Tirupathi, the medical director of infectious diseases at Keystone Health, said people need to do a better job of practicing social distancing and wearing face coverings.

He emphasized that masks do work in preventing the spread of COVID-19, saying it is the easiest thing people can do to protect others and, in turn, themselves.

"This is the only we have right now that does mitigate the risk several times."

Amber South of Chambersburg Public Opinion contributed to this story.