JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - As tens of thousands of Mississippi students returned to classes Monday, the state’s health officer reports students and teachers who have tested positive for the coronavirus since Friday have more than doubled, with the spread now reaching school districts in 71 of the state’s 82 counties.
Eight days earlier, only 14 counties had COVID-19 cases in schools.
Given the risk teachers face from inevitable outbreaks, Gov. Tate Reeves announced a measure allowing any teacher or staff member at a K-12 school to be tested for the coronavirus, regardless of whether they show symptoms or had close contact with someone positive for the virus.
“There will be multiple mechanisms through which this testing will be available to teachers and faculty,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said. “We’ll have 16 testing teams regionally throughout the state, and they will rotate at the county health departments and do drive-through testing that will be available on an ongoing manner.”
Dobbs said the testing clinic on West Street in Jackson will also be available, as will MSDH’s community testing sites across the state.
“I know we’ve got challenges. I know we’re going to have to quarantine teachers. I know we’re going to have to quarantine students. In fact, I would tell you that the mere fact that we are quarantining shows that in many of these districts, they’re doing the right thing. They’re doing the things that need to be done,” Reeves said.
More than 2,600 people are currently quarantined because of possible exposure from 245 teachers and 199 students, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said, though the state’s health department has yet to break this information down by county or district.
That will happen soon, Dobbs said, adding that the immense task of compiling data from 1,200 schools across the state takes time.
Reeves also announced telehealth options for school districts without nurses or on-site clinics to help address chronic care for students under Medicaid.
More than half the state’s school districts fall into that category.
“A physician, a nurse practitioner, or physician assistant will be able to provide remote services in schools across the state,” Reeves said.
The services, Reeves said, would also allow those students to stay in school and take the burden of scheduling appointments and travel off the student’s parents.
Students will not, however, have access to the same testing benefits teachers will be able to utilize, the governor said.
On Friday, Reeves told reporters none of the coronavirus cases involving students and teachers had been contracted at school, a position he amended during Monday’s briefing, when he said “the majority of cases” came from community spread.
Dobbs echoed those sentiments during Monday’s briefing as well.
“We recognize that teachers and school staff are true heroes right now, trying to educate our kids in the midst of the most impactful pandemic in over a century and so the governor and I thought it was a fantastic idea, and we support making sure that all teachers and all staff have ready access to quick turnaround lab results for all they’re doing for us,” Dobbs said.