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Waynesboro Schools trend downward with COVID-19 cases

By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press

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WAYNESBORO — In the first nine weeks of the Waynesboro Schools’ 2021-2022 academic year, 147 positive cases of COVID-19 were reported. Since the second nine-week period began on Oct. 10, only 18 positive cases have been reported.

“We’re just in a complete different place [than the first nine weeks of school],” said Ryan Barber, executive director of student services for Waynesboro Schools.

Of the school system’s seven buildings, Waynesboro High School has reported the most cases: 73. Barber attributes this to the fact that high school students are more involved in community activities, jobs and sports than younger students.

Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell said the school also has the highest staff and student total at 960 of all the schools.

A dashboard on the school system’s website keeps track of COVID-19 cases. So far this week, Wayne Hills Center, Berkeley Glenn Elementary School and Valley Academy have reported no cases.

“So, currently, mitigation strategies are working,” Barber said. And he is happy that Waynesboro students continue to be able to attend school five days a week.

Cassell said the school system does not know what the rest of this year or what second semester will bring regarding the pandemic, but cases in the school system were generated from the community, not within the schools. He hopes to keep students in school five days a week on a traditional schedule.

“I’d like to have a normal second semester, probably wearing masks,” Cassell said.

Barber said he hopes that more students can obtain vaccinations in the coming months, including ages 5-11, per CDC recent guidelines. Evidence supports that vaccinated individuals are better protected if they contract the virus.

“So, we definitely want kids in school,” he said.

Extracurricular activities, including sports, have continued. Barber said a band concert was held last weekend at Waynesboro High, and a theater production is planned at Kate Collins Middle School in November.

Student actors are permitted to perform with masks and social distancing, per Virginia Department of Education and the Viginia Music Education Association guidelines, according to Barber.

“Those educators have worked closely with my office to make sure they have the right kind of masks to participate,” he said.

The theater departments of Waynesboro Schools are part of the school system’s entire program offered to students, Barber said, because staff understand that some students may not be interested in sports or academic clubs, but are interested in the arts.

Barber said that a date has not been set yet, but a Saturday in November will bring a mobile vaccination clinic to Waynesboro Schools for students ages 5-11.

According to Barber, more than 90 percent of Waynesboro Schools’ instructional and support staff are vaccinated.

“We’re really proud of that,” he said.

However, only 40 to 50 percent of eligible students are vaccinated.

“I think as a community as a whole our vaccination is hovering around 50 [percent],” Barber said.

He added that vaccinated staff members who have contracted COVID-19 had more favorable outcomes than those not vaccinated.

Barber is hopeful for the rest of this year and the second semester of the academic year when it comes to vaccination options.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.