School board stays on top of COVID news


Swain Schools set to reopen Jan. 5 for spring semester


The Swain County Board of Education met Wednesday night, Dec. 30 for a special called meeting to discuss the potential impact of COVID-19 on the return to classes. With a nod from the health department, they agreed to the regular schedule of students returning to class Jan. 5 for Group A and Jan. 7 for Group B.
Currently, students are on a rotating schedule with Group A attending Mondays and Tuesdays and Group B Thursdays and Fridays. The other days, including Wednesday, is remote learning.

The first subject at the meeting was hearing from Swain County Health Department Director Alison Cochran who shared the latest information on the 115 active COVID-19 cases as of Dec. 30.

“Of course, our active cases are up, positive cases are up, case fatality is down,” she said.

She shared that local reporting of COVID-19 numbers will likely be changing because of time constraints. The public can anticipate being simply referred to the state dashboard for those numbers, she said.

She also provided an update to the guidance changes on who gets vaccinated when. The first doses went out to first responders and healthcare workers last week, as well as long term care residents.

“We’ll move to the new phase 1b group 1: anyone 75 years and older,” she said once her department receives more doses of the Moderna vaccines. “We’ll take appointments for those 75 and older. The public just needs to realize that’s going to take time, and it’s only if we have the vaccine (in hand).”

Theoretically, the health department is slated to get weekly shipments of the vaccine but that could change if other areas of the state have higher need.  

The next group of vaccines will go to frontline workers 50 and older then essential workers of any age. Phase 2 will follow where it opens up to more people to get the vaccine.

“This is going to be a very long process,” Cochran explained. “One, we don’t have the vaccine and two we don’t have the staff, and it takes a lot of time.”

She said people who go to the health department for the vaccine can anticipate to spend about 45 minutes there.  

Superintendent Mark Sale asked for clarification on how educators fit in, and Cochran confirmed educators are considered essential workers and will qualify to get the vaccines based by their age group.

“Is this going to be an annual thing like the flu?” asked Vic Chair Kim Carpenter.

“We don’t know yet; I don’t think they know,” Cochran said.

“We’re dealing with something that’s so new, and I think that’s what’s been so difficult about this year,” noted Superintendent Mark Sale.

“The positive thing is there should be five or six vaccines by then,” chairman Gerald McKinney said.


Students can return

On students returning, Sale said he thinks the system can continue to operate on campus. “I believe we’re still in a place where we can accomplish that,” he said, but asked Cochran for her opinion.

She agreed that it should be okay for students to return at this time safely based on the number of cases.

“Our numbers are high—115 active cases. That could go down, but I do expect it to jump right back up given Christmas and New Years,” Cochran said, adding it took about a month for Thanksgiving’s impact on the local numbers.

When classes begin, a handful of staff members are going to be out either having tested positive or having close contact, according to Sale. He said as of Wednesday there were 14 at that time but seven who won’t be able to return as classes begin.

He noted the school system did have to close one classroom right before the break and that kind of thing could happen again.

“We could be looking at things like that in the future closing down a classroom, perhaps a grade.”

Both Sale and Cochran stressed that to keep schools open and to prevent spread within the schools, parents need to keep students home and staff need to stay home if they have symptoms or are a close contact to someone who has tested positive.