COVID-19 coronavirus 24

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CENTER TOWNSHIP — Homer-Center School District officials reported that two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 infection last week but had minimal contact with students in their classrooms.

At the Indiana Area School District, officials on Sunday announced that a student at Ben Franklin Elementary School had a positive diagnosis for novel coronavirus.

The pair at Homer-Center are an elementary school teacher and a student teacher assigned to the other’s classroom, District Superintendent Curt Whitesel said this morning.

The student teacher — one that Whitesel described as an itinerant teacher who served in several classrooms but had less than 15 minutes of contact with any students — was diagnosed on Labor Day. Whitesel said the instructor was quarantined for the week at the direction of the Pennsylvania Department of Health and was cleared at midnight Sunday. The student teacher has been assigned to work from home all this week.

The classrooms where the student teacher worked were cleaned and fogged, according to the district website.

“In that area, we were lucky,” Whitesel said. “Because the teacher did not have contact with students for more than 15 minutes, we did not have to quarantine any students or other teachers.”

Whitesel said the supervising teacher immediately was told to work from home for the week.

“We told her not to come into the building after (the student teacher) became symptomatic,” he said.

The supervisor was tested Wednesday, diagnosed positive at 3 p.m. Friday and was ordered to quarantine through Wednesday night, and has been advised to work from home Thursday and Friday.

“We did not have the two confirmed cases at the same time in the building,” Whitesel said.

Because the student teacher has completed the required quarantine, the case is no longer listed on the district website.

The transmission was traced to the teachers’ exposure when they dined together more than a week ago, Whitesel said, “but they wore masks at all other times.”

The administration planned to reinforce the guidelines requiring staff and students to maintain 6 feet of separation when they remove face coverings at meal time.

Although the student teacher has DOH approval to return to work and the regular staffer will be cleared for Thursday, “we requested that they both work from home,” Whitesel said. “If they feel great, they should both return Sept. 21.

“I just feel better about it, to give them the extra days and the weekend to recover.”

At the Indiana Area schools, Superintendent Michael Vuckovich announced Sunday in an online message directed to parents that a youngster attending Ben Franklin Elementary has the illness.

Pre-kindergarten through third-grade students are enrolled at the school.

Vuckovich said the Department of Health gave the administration no specific instructions during the weekend, but the district asked the student’s classmates and others who rode the same bus to stay at home today.

“We have been instructed by the PA Department of Health to identify the students and adults who may be at risk of exposure. IASD is communicating with them regarding necessary quarantines and advising them to closely monitor their health and to contact their Health Care Provider if they experience any symptoms,” according to Vuckovich’s online message.

“We acted out of an abundance of caution based on the advice of local health experts,” Vuckovich told the Gazette. “Our actions were taken in line with our top priority: to protect the health and well-being of our students, staff and the greater Indiana community.”

He said the district’s next steps would depend on instructions from the state.

Vuckovich urged parents of all students in the district to continue monitoring their children for the symptoms of COVID-19.

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the county courthouse; Indiana Area and Homer-Center schools; Blairsville, Homer City, Clymer, Center and Burrell; and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.