Spike in COVID-19 closes NAHS
Parents and guardians of students at Northampton Area High School are expected to know by Nov. 13 as to whether or not the high school will reopen for in-person instruction the week of Nov. 16.
NAHS is closed to students, administration, teachers and staff Nov. 9-13 because of a spike in confirmed cases of COVID-19.
As of the Nov. 9 board of education meeting, there were 28 cases of coronavirus COVID-19 in Northampton Area School District. Two additional cases were announced Nov. 10, bringing the total to 30. That’s an increase from the 20 cases as of Nov. 3 in the district.
The temporary closure of NAHS was announced by NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik in a video chat posted Nov. 6 on YouTube.
“The high school has moved to all-remote learning the week of Nov. 9 because of COVID,” Kovalchik said in his report to the school board Nov. 9.
Five new cases at NAHS were reported the week of Nov. 1.
“On top of that,” said Kovalchik, “we have many pending cases and have more pending cases out there.”
In his approximate 15-minute address to the board, Kovalchik explained the rationale for closing the high school.
“I’m not happy with the closing, as I’m sure many of you aren’t,” said Kovalchik, adding he believes in the effectiveness of in-class school instruction.
Kovalchik said it’s not only the sheer numbers of COVID-19 cases that figure into a decision to close a school.
“It’s the size of the building. Do we see a common spread? What’s the trend in COVID cases? Is it up or down?” he said.
“We are erring on the side of caution. The hope is to minimize the spread,” said Kovalchik, regarding the decision to close the school for a week.
“(Northampton) County is now in (the) substantial (category). Thirty-eight counties are in substantial,” Kovalchik said following a Nov. 9 conference call with Pennsylvania Department of Health officials.
“We are watching the numbers increase. That doesn’t mean we’ll go back to shutting down,” Kovalchik said.
Kovalchik said, as of the Nov. 9 school board meeting, Northampton Area Middle School and the elementary schools of Moore, George Wolf, Lehigh, Siegfried and Franklin are staying open under the district’s hybrid instructional plan of two days in class, two days remote and one day at home for students.
“Our goal is to stay face-to-face (with learning), but we have to look at the variables,” Kovalchik said.
Kovalchik cited gatherings of people and pandemic fatigue as potential factors contributing to the spike in coronavirus cases.
“Most people are tired of this, and they’re letting their guard down,” he said.
“I’d like to thank the public with maintaining social distancing to prevent the spread of the pandemic in our county,” school Director John Becker said.
“I ask our parents to help contain the pandemic,” school board Vice President Chuck Frantz said. “Wear a face mask, wash hands, and maintain social distancing. We have to contain it.”
Kovalchik issued 19 COVID-19 alert letters to the community, with three in September, eight in October and eight in November, as of Nov. 10.
A Nov. 10 letter stated NASD was notified of two confirmed cases, one Lehigh Elementary student who last attended Nov. 4; and one Siegfried student who last attended Nov. 6.
A Nov. 9 letter stated NASD was notified of one confirmed case involving an eLearning high school student who has not attended school for in-person instruction or after-school activities this school year.
A Nov. 7 letter stated NASD was notified of three confirmed cases of coronavirus, one middle school student who last attended Oct. 29; one Siegfried student who last attended Oct. 30; and one Lehigh Elementary student who last attended school Nov. 4.
A Nov. 6 letter stated NASD was notified of two confirmed cases of coronavirus, both high school students from the same household who last attended school Oct. 30.
A Nov. 5 letter stated NASD was notified of one confirmed case of coronavirus involving an eLearning high school student who has not attended school for in-person instruction or after-school activities this school year.
A Nov. 4 letter stated NASD was notified of one confirmed case of coronavirus of a middle school student who last attended school Oct. 21.
As of Nov. 10, the NASD confirmed coronavirus case tally is: NAHS: 16 (including three eLearning students); NAMS: four; Lehigh Elementary: four; George Wolf Elementary: two (including an eLearning student); Siegfried Elementary: three; and Franklin Elementary: one. There are no reported cases at Moore Elementary, as of Nov. 10.
“Pennsylvania is at risk of an outbreak. COVID cases are either increasing at a rate likely to overwhelm hospitals and/or the state’s COVID preparedness is below international standards,” according to the website covidactnow.org.
As of noon Nov. 10, there were 238,657 cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Counties are designated as having low, moderate or substantial transmission risks.
Low risk is when a county has fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, or a less-than-5-percent positivity rate over seven days. Moderate is when a county has from 10 to 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, or a 5- to 10-percent positivity rate over seven days. Substantial is when a county has more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, or a percent positivity rate above 10 percent over seven days.
Pennsylvania Department of Education recommends fully remote education in counties with a substantial risk.
Watch Kovalchik’s Nov. 6 video chat at youtube.com/watch?v=5M0JNIUOikM. The district’s COVID-19 letters can be found at nasdschools.org.
The next school board meeting is 7 p.m. Nov. 23 in the cafeteria at NAMS, 1617 Laubach Ave. Face masks must be worn, and social distancing will be observed.