COVID surges sending county schools to virtual learning

Published 9:24 am Wednesday, January 5, 2022

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Just a few days shy of returning to in-person learning at Butler County Schools, Superintendent Joseph Eiland made the announcement that the school system will be returning to virtual learning at least through January 17.

The announcement said the change is due to the significant rise in the number of staff who have contracted COVID or have had to isolate due to exposure.

Eiland is hopeful that parents support his decision, but he said regardless he had to do what he felt was best for everyone involved.

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“The main issue is we have many teachers who are either positive with COVID or one of its variants or they are waiting at home, due to quarantine, waiting on results. We have very few subs. Rather than putting our principals and children in situations where they are not getting quality instruction, I chose to make the move to virtual learning,” Eiland said.

Will the virtual learning extend past January 17? Eiland said that is not his intention.

“I learned in 2020 with COVID that you never say never, but I expect to return to in-person instruction and get back to normal on the 18th.

Butler County EMA Director John Sims agrees with Eiland’s decision.

“I do believe it is a good idea, especially with the sudden rise in cases,” Sims said. “I received an email today that said Alabama saw an increase of 8,215 COVID-19 cases in a single day recently. I believe it was a smart move. Obviously, we want the numbers to go down.”

With the surge of new cases, the possibility of mandatory masking is on many people’s mind.

“I believe that masking helped some,” Sims said. Everything that they have tested said that the 95 mask was the only sure mask, but I believe others helped deter and minimize the spread. I don’t know that they will be going back to mandatory masking. I haven’t heard any talk on that yet.”

The Butler County School system has maintained a mask mandate since the beginning of school.

“We had very low incidents prior to getting out for Christmas. Even after the Thanksgiving holidays we had low numbers. Based on what I am hearing from our head nurse, 40 percent are testing positive. Christmas was a super spreader,” Eiland said.

The entire state of Alabama is colored red, indicating a high community transmission rate, on the Alabama Department of Public Health website. The red labeling represents more than 100 new COVID positive tests per 100,000 persons.

Butler County had 594.7 new cases as of Tuesday, January 4, 2022.

Butler County is still well below surrounding counties. Crenshaw had 1,008.7 new cases. Lowndes County, one of the most vaccinated counties in the state, had 1,099.5.