Area schools report surge in COVID-19 cases

Published 11:04 am Monday, January 24, 2022

By Marc Pruitt
Clemmons Courier

West Forsyth High, Clemmons Middle and Lewisville Elementary were among the schools to report the highest number of positive cases of COVID-19 for students and staff for the week ending on Jan. 14. The week of Jan. 10-14 was the first full week back to school for all students in Winston-Salem Forsyth County schools since the week of Dec. 17.

West Forsyth (43) and Clemmons Middle (35) reported the two highest cases in the district for students, while Lewisville Elementary (32) had the fourth highest. West Forsyth (174) and Clemmons (143) are also two of nine schools that have reported more than 100 cases in students during the school year.

Clemmons Middle also recorded seven positive cases for staff members while West Forsyth had five.

According to the WSFCS contact tracing team, 1,016 students and 189 staff members reported positive cases for the week ending on Jan. 14. Those numbers reflect an increase of 298 total cases, a 57% jump from the three-day week before. The number of reported staff cases dropped 28%. The highly infectious omicron variant has been sweeping across the country, causing positive cases to skyrocket. Forsyth County broke its record for total reported cases several times in the last two weeks — 1,318 new cases were reported on Jan. 18, a new record for the county. The previous high had been 1,205 cases on Jan. 13 and 14.

“When you have groups of people coming together in their communities, no matter what their ages are, whether that’s in a school or a church or a bar or a restaurant, the potential to spread the virus is high because omicron is highly infectious,” said Dr. David Priest, Novant Health’s chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer said during a teleconference last week. “On some level, it’s not surprising we are having a surge now. Omicron has come through. We’ve just had three major holidays, people have been traveling, school is back in, and you are getting human beings close together again and that’s just where it’s going to spread. There are ways to mitigate at schools. Certainly, distancing and masking and vaccination programs are helping. And we have indoor basketball games going on again and extracurricular activities. Those are all places where the spreading of the virus can occur.”

These figures also come on the heels the school system rolling out in-school testing in 19 schools throughout the district, with Clemmons Middle and Lewisville Elementary among the schools that volunteered to participate. Providing tests in school can speed up the process of waiting for test results at outside testing centers, where it may take up to 72 hours to process tests and share results. Students and staff that have been getting tested at regular facilities have to wait to get a negative test result before they can go back to school. The system hopes that on-site testing can keep more students and staff at school. Each school has a COVID coordinator, trained by healthcare professionals, which will administer the tests, as well as other trained volunteers and workers provided by the health department.

Pediatric cases, for children aged 0-17, totaled 13,951 in Forsyth County since the beginning of the pandemic and account for for the highest amount of cases for an age group, making up 19% of total cases. There were 13,355 people aged 50-64 who tested positive, the second-highest number for an age group.

Pediatric cases reflected 24.6% of the total number of new cases for the week ending on Jan. 15, with those aged 5-9 (547) and 10-14 (678) reflecting the highest amount.

Now that vaccines are available for everyone from age 5 and older, health care officials are reminding everyone that the best protection from becoming seriously ill is to get vaccinated.

“We have seen the increase in the percentage of patients in our hospitals under the age of 18, so children,” Priest said. “It hasn’t been a massive increase, but omicron is so widespread that we have seen an increase in children admitted to the hospital. In general, and almost universally, those children we see in the hospital have not been vaccinated and also have other health problems. We have been fortunate that this hasn’t had the devastating impact on children that it has had on older adults. That being said, we do have a vaccine now that has proven safe and effective in clinical trials for children, and we would encourage parents to consult their pediatrician about getting them if they haven’t done so already.”

Health officials are hopeful that with schools being out all last week because of snow and ice as well as a teacher workday last Friday, the spread can be mitigated. Students were scheduled to return to classes on Monday, Jan. 24.