The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, January 04, 2022 1:00 am

Schools restarting as surge continues

COVID numbers worry county health director

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Three Allen County school districts plan to welcome students back to classrooms today amid a COVID-19 surge that has pushed the average local daily case count past 400 for the first time since 2020.

“The timing as school resumes is concerning, and I would anticipate an impact on school operations,” said Dr. Matthew Sutter, Allen County health commissioner.

Fort Wayne Community Schools, Northwest Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools resume lessons today. East Allen County Schools is scheduled to begin classes Wednesday.

Only FWCS is requiring masks, although the agenda for tonight's SACS board meeting was revised Monday to include a report and action on the return to classroom plan.

The NACS board – which decided in November not to mandate masks after winter break – is scheduled to meet tonight in executive session, which is closed to the public. Masks could be addressed, district spokeswoman Lizette Downey said, “but I cannot say definitively if anything will change.”

The return to school comes just days after Allen County recorded its two highest daily case counts. The 651 new infections reported Friday and the 636 reported Thursday topped the previous high of 613, which was set Nov. 14, 2020.

The local health department reported 218 new infections Monday, bringing totals to 77,140 cases and 952 deaths. The state reported 4,091 new diagnoses and no new fatalities.

Sutter cited the county's recent record highs and the average daily case count when discussing the end of winter break. He said the health department encourages the “common-sense” practices of masking, social distancing, frequent handwashing and vaccination to reduce the spread of disease.

“As the omicron variant appears to have more ability to evade the immune system than previous variants, recent vaccination or a booster shot is recommended to reduce the risk of infection,” Sutter said.

People ages 5 and older are eligible for the vaccine. As of early Monday, 54.8% of eligible Allen County residents were fully vaccinated, according to the state.

Vaccination rates among FWCS students are low. This, coupled with surging cases, means the district must continue to take precautions as it strives to keep students at all grade levels in school five days a week, Superintendent Mark Daniel said in the district's reentry plan, which was updated Monday.

The district on Monday encouraged parents to check their children for signs of illness before leaving for school. It also reiterated the indoor mask mandate, which allows for the least amount of quarantine days for students and staff.

“This will maintain in place until community spread is lower and as long as wearing masks means students can spend more days in school than out of school,” Daniel said.

At a glance

Fully vaccinated eligible residents by county

Adams: 11,599 (35.7%)

Allen: 193,273 (54.8%)

DeKalb: 17,295 (42.5%)

Huntington: 16,223 (47.1%)

Kosciusko: 31,445 (42.3%)

LaGrange: 8,500 (23.6%)

Noble: 18,234 (40.9%)

Steuben: 15,126 (46.2%)

Wabash: 12,320 (42%)

Wells: 11,375 (42.9%)

Whitley: 14,594 (45.7%)

Source: Indiana Department of Health

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