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Caddo Schools, medical leaders urge COVID precautions over Thanksgiving break as cases surge

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SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Caddo Schools Superintendent Dr. Lamar Goree and local medical leaders held a news conference Thursday afternoon to discuss the importance of students, staff and families continuing to take COVID safety precautions over the upcoming Thanksgiving break.

“We as parents, we as students, we as educators are going to have to make some difficult decisions over the holiday and look at what are those non-traditional ways that we can celebrate, enjoy family, but yet not be in situations that increase the spread of the virus,” Goree said in a news conference called to talk about “what will probably be the most unique Thanksgiving experience that we’ve had.”

Goree recalled how he first heard back in early March that “they think this thing called COVID-19 is a bigger deal than we anticipate” and wondering then whether it would be like H1N1 and quickly progress through the cycles and life would carry on.

Eight months later, the COVID-19 pandemic is surging to new heights across the U.S. and across Louisiana, including the northwest portion of the state.

The week-long Thanksgiving break begins on Monday, Nov. 23 in both Caddo and Bossier parishes, where cases have been trending up along with the rest of the state and rising dramatically over the past few weeks. Hospitalizations are also on the rise in the region.

While Goree says the school district is prepared to pivot to virtual learning “at the drop of a dime” if necessary, the plan is to continue with in-school instruction after the break on November 30 and continue to monitor cases in schools and take action to go virtual if needed on school-by-school basis.

“We are happy to report that schools are not those super-spreader events. In fact, we boast a positivity rate of under 1 percent for both students and staff. In fact, our student positivity rate is about 1.2%,” said Goree. “However, I think it’s important to note as we’ve returned from things like fall break and also from Halloween, we did see increases that are concerning to us.”

Goree also made a point to address rumors that the district would be going virtual following the return from break and that the school year would end in April.

“That’s a rumor. None of those things are true and they are not in our plan of action.”

But Goree and others at the news conference worked to drive home the message that large gatherings will need to be avoided in order to keep the virus from surging even further and threatening the goal of keeping students in school for instruction.

“This is not the time to let your guard down. This is not the time where we need to engage in large gatherings. This is not the time where we don’t need to make sure that we’re not doing things like sleepovers, friends gathering to go to the mall together. This is not the time to do those things that will increase the presence of the virus when we return to school on November 30th.”

They also emphasized the need to practice the “3 Ws:” wear your mask, watch your distance, and wash your hands.

“What is it you want?” asked Louisiana Department of Health Region 7 Director Dr. Martha Whyte. “If you want to see us moving more and more forward to what we consider normalcy, then we know what we need to do. We’ve done it before.”

In addition to wearing masks, Whyte urged people not to hold gatherings if they cannot social distance and not to attend them, either, and warned the vaccines in the works are still too far off to count on to keep the virus in check.

“It’s gonna be a while before we have that herd immunity from the vaccine, so that’s not gonna be our answer right this minute.”

Willis Knighton Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Joseph Bocchini also spoke at the news conference, noting that the region has doubled in COVID-related hospital admissions over the past month, and that data from the Willis Knighton System alone shows a positivity rate of more than 15% last week.

“So it’s very clear we have a high degree of activity within our community,” Boccini said, advising limiting gathering size and travel.

LSU Health Shreveport Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. John Vanchiere pointed out the high rates of asymptomatic spread with the coronavirus, unlike the flu.

“So those people with no symptoms can still spread the virus. What that means is, if there are 30 people in the room, that a significant number may have COVID infection and not know it, even though they have no symptoms, So you can’t wait for symptoms to say, ‘Okay, now I have a cold,’ or, ‘Now I’m sick, I have a runny nose or fever and I’m gonna stay home.’ That’s not an effective strategy like it is in other times.”

The Louisiana Department of Health reported 2,073 new COVID-19 cases statewide and 15 more deaths Thursday, bringing the cumulative number of confirmed and probable cases to 211,966 and deaths to 6,199.

Caddo added 129 new cases Wednesday, bringing the total confirmed and presumed cases in the parish to 11,928. 428 deaths have been reported in Caddo Parish since the beginning of the pandemic. There were 201 new confirmed and presumed cases reported in Bossier, bringing the total there to 5,625. A total of 141 deaths have also been reported.

The Louisiana Department of Health also updates data on COVID-19 cases in K-12 schools weekly on Wednesdays. As of November 15, there were a total of 311 confirmed cases among faculty, staff, volunteers, and students in the 66 schools enrolled in the state’s coronavirus reporting program.

244 of those cases are among students, and 50 of them were reported between Nov. 9 and Nov. 15. Of the 87 total cases reported among faculty, staff, and volunteers at Caddo schools, 46 were reported over the same period.

There have been 348 cases reported in the 34 Bossier schools enrolled in the reporting program, with 248 among students. 33 of those cases were reported between November 9 and November 15. Nine of the 100 cases among faculty, staff, and volunteers were reported over the same period.

On Monday, Bossier Schools announced that there are no plans to go all-virtual following the Thanksgiving break, saying it would be disruptive to the families of more than 21,000 students attending daily and a last resort.”

The school district said it will continue to follow all protocols and mitigation measures in place and urge everyone to practice social distancing, wash their hands, and wearing a mask to protect themselves and others.

View the full news conference below:

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