By Alyssa Schnugg
An increase of COVID-19 cases in the past week has forced Oxford and Lafayette County to keep some students home with the hope that the coming Thanksgiving break will help stop the outbreak.
Last week, the Oxford School District announced that it was closing the Middle School campus and moving students to online classes until Nov. 30. On Monday, the district released its weekly COVID-19 numbers.
A total of 14 new cases were reported as of Friday with two cases at Central Elementary (one staff/one teacher); nine cases at Oxford Middle School (one staff/eight students); two at the High School (students); and one staff member from “other departments.”
Due to contact tracing, a total of 175 faculty and students are in quarantine with most – 160 – at Oxford Middle School.
Also last week, the Lafayette County School District closed its middle and high school campuses and returned seventh- through 12th-grade students to online schooling.
From Nov. 9-15, the district had 47 new cases reported with eight at Lafayette Elementary ( two faculty/six students); six students at Lafayette Upper Elementary; one student at Lafayette Middle School; 30 at Lafayette High School (seven faculty/23 students) and two staff members.
Lafayette does not report the number of faculty/students in quarantine.
OSD Superintendent Brian Harvey said contract tracing has not revealed one particular event or activity that occurred causing the increase.
“It was several,” he said Tuesday. “Some school related and some not.”
He said the middle school boys and girls basketball teams are quarantined. He said middle schools can be more at risk of spreading the virus due to having longer days at school.
“We knew that the middle school would be where we were likely to see problems due to students having a seven-period day,” he said. “Although the high school represents 52% of our total infections, they do have twice the number of students than the other schools. It has also helped to be on the block schedule where transitions are minimized for students.”
New cases of COVID-19 in Oxford overall have also seen a sharp increase in the last week. Last week there were 102 active cases in Oxford. As of Monday, there are 201. There have been 174 new cases in Lafayette County in the past seven days.
As of Monday, there have been 2,912 cases of the coronavirus since March and 45 deaths.
The University of Mississippi reported 24 new cases in the last seven days, down one case from the week prior. There are currently 20 active cases with three students in isolation and two in quarantine.
There have been 903 cases at Ole Miss since August.
Since many students are here in Oxford but live elsewhere full-time, those positive cases are often reported to their hometown and state, so it is unclear how many of UM’s cases are included in the MSDH’s reported cases for Lafayette County.
Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi is reporting 34 patients with COVID-19 were in the hospital as of Monday, up six from last week. There were 28 available staffed beds. There are a total of 181 staffed beds in the hospital.
In the ICU, there were four patients with COVID-19 with 12 available ICU beds. There is a total of 24 adult ICU beds.
Mississippi’s total of COVID-19 cases for the year now stands at 135,803, with 3,581 deaths.
On Monday, Gov. Tate Reeves announced additional counties that have qualified to be under mask mandates under his “Safe Recovery” executive order that is in effect through Dec. 11.
As of now, 22 of Mississippi’s 82 counties are included in this executive order.
Lafayette County has not been included in the Governor’s mandates; however, the city of Oxford has a mask mandate in place.
While the upcoming holiday could help slow down active cases in the schools, with the possibility of large family gatherings happening, the exact opposite could occur.
Lauren Durham, a nurse practitioner at UM University Health Services, offered the following safety tips for gatherings this Thanksgiving.
- Consider the risk: Virtual-only activities, events and gatherings are low-risk. At somewhat more risk are smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear masks, do not share objects and come from the same local area – community, town, city or county. Higher risk are medium-sized in-person gatherings that are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and with attendees coming from outside the local area. Large in-person gatherings, where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area, are the highest risk.
- Duration of the event: Gatherings that last longer pose greater risk than shorter gatherings.
- Consider outdoor events rather than indoor. Always limit the number of attendees.
- Maintain 6 feet distance from others and practice social distancing. This includes minimizing gestures, such as hugging or shaking hands.
- Wear protective equipment. Mask up at all times.
- Practice sanitation. Encourage good hand washing or hand sanitizer use. Have plenty of soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, tissues, cleaning supplies, EPA-approved disinfection supplies, cloth face coverings, no-touch/foot pedal garbage cans and disinfectant wipes.
- Keep safe around food and drinks. Encourage already-made plates vs. self-serve to prevent multiple individuals from touching utensils or food. Use individual packets or assign one individual to serve sharable items. Avoid self-serve drink stations.