High COVID-19 rates impact Talawanda, Miami students

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Photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus causes high rates of infection throughout Butler County.

By Morgan Schneider

Talawanda School District is fighting to keep students in classrooms even as the omicron variant of COVID-19 sweeps through Oxford.

After announcing in a blog post Jan. 5 that masks would be optional in schools starting Jan. 10, Talawanda Superintendent Edward Theroux reversed his decision. In a blog post from Jan. 12, Theroux stated that masks would be required in all five schools starting Jan. 18 and continuing through Feb. 4.

“I will evaluate the decision at that time and may either release the mask mandate or extend the mask mandate,” Theroux said.

Theroux also called for parent and student collaboration, writing, “Let’s keep our schools open to in-person learning. We need to work together and not against each other.”

The decision comes as Talawanda sees a rise in COVID-19 cases and quarantines. Talawanda Middle School switched to remote learning Jan. 12 through Jan. 14 due to staff shortages, a lack of substitute teachers and an almost 30% student absentee rate.

Talawanda Middle School closed and reverted to online instruction for three days this week. Photo courtesy of Talawanda School District

According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, the district has 42 students currently sick with COVID-19, and another 349 currently quarantining. Butler County’s positivity test rate hovers around 29%, a rate labelled “high positivity” by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the highest positivity rate ever in the county.

A number of schools in Hamilton County and Butler County have gone remote until later in the month, including Cincinnati Public Schools and Hamilton City Schools.

Schools are making decisions on a district-by-district basis. Talawanda and Miami continue to follow Butler County Public Health guidelines and CDC recommendations, but the state of Ohio has not released any recommendations on how schools should currently be responding to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Miami University prepares for its bi-annual influx of about 14,500 students back to campus for the start of spring semester Jan. 24. The university’s COVID-19 dashboard has not been updated since Dec. 8, 2021. At last count, the university had 260 students test positive for coronavirus since Aug. 10.

Miami has reached a vaccination rate of 92% among students since the deadline of Nov. 25 was set for full vaccination. The school announced in an email Wednesday, Jan. 12, that all students living in university housing would be required to show a negative PCR test administered no more than 72 hours before moving in.

Miami announced it has updated its quarantine and isolation policy to reflect new guidelines from the CDC. Quarantine and isolation periods have been shortened to five days, and any student, staff or faculty member who is not vaccinated, or has not received a booster shot if eligible, will be placed into a five-day quarantine if they come into close contact with someone who tests positive for the coronavirus.

Miami will also limit quarantine and isolation spaces on campus for students who receive a positive test and need to isolate. If an individual comes in close contact with someone positive for COVID-19, and lives less than 150 miles from campus, they will be expected to return home or isolate off-campus for the quarantine period.