October 23, 2020
BPS Families and Staff,
Throughout this pandemic, our community has remained strong and resolute in working together to keep each other safe and our schools open. We appreciate these efforts and value your patience and understanding. As always, the purpose of these updates is to provide you with timely and candid information about the impact of COVID on our schools. Managing this pandemic is one of the biggest challenges our nation, and our community, has faced in decades. I’m confident we will get to the other side, just not as quickly as we would all like.
This week’s COVID-19 update presents some concerning news and trends relative to the spread of the virus in our community and state. After several weeks of stable and even decreasing case counts over the month of September, the numbers in Tulsa County and within Bixby city limits have surged sharply in the past ten days. Additionally, state and national health agencies are warning that the next few weeks may be especially precarious. Some experts caution that our nation’s current 60,000 new cases per day may skyrocket to over 100,000 per day by November and that fatalities may also increase proportionally.
For the first time since the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) established its color-coded, COVID-alert system, Tulsa County has moved into the second highest level (Orange-II) with 30.8 new cases for every 100K of population. This is an increase of 40% in only one week. COVID-related hospitalizations in Oklahoma have also reached all-time highs this week. On Wednesday, 870 Oklahomans were being treated in Oklahoma hospitals with 317 patients admitted to ICUs. Both of these figures are significant increases from last month. We are also observing negative trends in Bixby with active case counts nearly doubling from 48 to 87 in the past two weeks. Finally, our internal district data indicate that the number of students being quarantined or isolated due to testing positive or being in close contact with a positive individual has reached 343, approximately 6.2% of our total physical enrollment.
Yesterday, we were also made aware of updated guidance from the CDC on the definition of “close contact.” This guideline is used during contact tracing to identify individuals who may be at high risk for contracting the virus due to extended exposure with a positive individual. Therefore, it is an important factor in the identification of individuals needing to be quarantined.
Until now, close contact was defined as being within six feet of a positive individual for more than 15 minutes in one setting. The new standard makes the 15 minutes cumulative, meaning we now have to look to see if individuals have been within six feet for 15 minutes over the past 24-hour period. Not only will this complicate and increase the time needed to conduct contact tracing when we identify a positive case, it will likely increase the potential number of individuals who need to be quarantined for 14 days from school.
The purpose of sharing this information is not to cause alarm. Rather, these facts serve as a stark reminder that we remain firmly in the midst of a serious health crisis. We have much work left to do before we can relax any of our current protocols and procedures.
With cooler weather and the start of cold and flu season, it will become even more difficult to monitor COVID cases and manage our response, particularly if large numbers of teachers and school staff become ill at the same time. Therefore, this is not the time to let our guard down and become complacent. It is a time for us to work even closer together to protect each other’s safety while mitigating the spread of COVID in our community, with the ultimate goal of keeping our schools open and school activities operating as normally as possible.
Over the past ten weeks, the district has been able to manage the pandemic effectively, which translates to keeping our students and staff safe and maintaining in-person instruction for the majority of our students. But, as I have said all along, changes may be necessary as this pandemic evolves and the resulting impact on our schools changes.
If we remain in the Orange-II category for subsequent weeks, the district will need to consider additional measures to protect the health of students and staff. This will likely include further restrictions on fan participation at athletic events and extracurriculars, as well as possibly limiting the scheduling of youth sports and activities held on our campuses. If cold and flu cases combined with COVID result in excessive absences of teachers -- beyond our capacity to cover with qualified substitutes -- it may also be necessary to move to distance learning for short periods of time.
Our district COVID Response Team continues to meet weekly to analyze our data and trends. The purpose of this team’s work is to try to stay a few weeks ahead of possible decision points and provide perspective and advice to me, our district leaders, and our Board of Education. It is important that we all remain flexible as circumstances change and safety decisions need to be made.
As I said in my last update, we are all tired of dealing with COVID. We’re weary of wearing masks, social distancing, and limiting our activities to avoid exposure. However, while we wish fervently that we were done with this virus, COVID is not done with us. As a result, we continue to hope for the best while simultaneously developing plans to respond proactively to changing circumstances.
Thank you for your continued support. I wish you and your families continued health and safety.