Indiana schools have consistently experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases following the holidays, and this January has been no exception.
On Jan. 11, 11 days after New Year’s Eve, there were 426 new positive COVID-19 student cases in Indiana, according to the Indiana COVID-19 Dashboard and Map.
Similar spikes occurred on Dec. 7, 11 days after Thanksgiving when there were 611 new positive student cases and on Nov. 9, 9 days after Halloween when there were 715 new positive student cases.
These statistics come from the 2,072 Indiana schools that have chosen to report their COVID-19 data to the state. 296 schools have yet to report this information.
Carroll High School has the highest number of positive COVID-19 student cases in Allen County thus far in the 2020-21 school year, at 66 total student cases out of 2,432 total students.
New Haven Jr-Sr High School has the highest number of positive teacher cases, at 18 teacher cases out of 20 total teachers.
In total, 92.7 percent of CHS students have still chosen to attend school in person. High school senior Gabriella Hall said she largely wanted to attend in-person school because this year is her last year of high school.
“Well, I'm a senior, and I kind of just wanted to have a real senior year, regardless of if I did end up spending some of it at home [because of quarantining],” Hall said. “It's just easier for me to learn in person than it is remote where I'm staring at a screen and the teacher’s not really paying attention to you.”
As part of the safety precautions the school is taking during the pandemic, the school is consistently disinfecting surfaces and taking part in contact tracing. It is also encouraging students to wash their hands, apply hand sanitizer, keep a distance of 6ft from one another when possible, and to wear masks for most of the school day, except when students are eating lunch.
According to Lizette Downey, Chief Communications Officer for Northwest Allen County Schools–Carroll High School's district–none of the schools in the district take students’ temperatures.
District administration and teachers met with local medical experts who suggested they not take the time to take temperatures, because people’s temperatures may be inconsistent and fluctuate frequently, so there is a possibility of misdiagnosing them.
“We consulted with public health experts and took their recommendation and decided [taking temperatures] wasn't a good use of our time, because it was going to be too time consuming to try to get–especially the bigger schools–to get everybody in and out,” Downey said.
According to the CDC, fever and cough are the most common symptoms reported in children under 18 with COVID-19. However, the CDC does not at the moment recommend schools to conduct symptom screening for all students in grades K-12 on a routine basis, and instead encourages parents to do so at home.
Genevieve Waidelich, a third-grade teacher at NACS' Eel River Elementary School, feels comfortable with the procedures the district has implemented, and thinks her school is doing a good job in taking the necessary precautions.
“Our custodians are wonderful, and the kids and the parents have been really great with kind of instilling all these new procedures in the kids,” Waidelich said. “So I'm comfortable coming in every day, and I'm honestly happy that we've been able to stay at school.”
CHS junior Gracie Rose said there are safety mechanisms in place in her school, but they are not always carried out effectively. For instance, there are sanitation stations in every classroom, but they are not enforced, according to Rose.
She also said that a majority of the students do wear their masks correctly, but others wear them under their noses or not at all during class.
“The school is doing an okay job, but more responsibility falls on the students which is a huge problem,” Rose said. “A lot of students don’t care about the virus, so they are not taking the precautions they need to in order to help the student body succeed in staying in school.”
She said that a majority of COVID-19 cases at CHS likely come from students not wearing masks and interacting with one another outside of school, rather than during school, which is out of the school’s control.
Despite the potential risk of getting COVID-19, Hall said that she feels comfortable attending school in person, and getting the opportunity to be in school is worth wearing masks, cleaning desks, and taking any precautions that are necessary.
“I know with online [learning], I really don't learn much of anything, and a lot of kids really do struggle with online to the point where they just don't show up,” Hall said. “So I'm glad that we do get to be in school, even if it means sometimes we have to be remote or we have to do all this extra stuff.”
Parnia Mazhar is a reporting intern for WBOI News.