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WISE — Wise County’s schools are seeing declining numbers of COVID-19 cases, and a possible vaccine for students under 12 can reduce the need for quarantines, according to Superintendent Greg Mullins.

Mullins told the county school board Tuesday that while positive test results and resulting quarantines among students are still a weekly occurrence, those instances have been on a decline in recent weeks.

Mullins said the division has been able to staff schools and bus runs through the first full school year of the pandemic, and he credited that to employees and faculty as they have maintained mitigation procedures including frequent cleaning of school facilities and social distancing.

“We will continue with mitigation procedures,” Mullins said, adding that Pfizer’s Oct. 7 request for emergency approval of its two-dose COVID-19 vaccine for children age 5-11 could come as soon as November.

“That could impact our quarantining since vaccinated persons do not need to quarantine,” Mullins said. “We do realize that having students in-person in classrooms is best for them.”

Wise County Education Association President Paul Clark asked the board if federal CARES Act and follow-on Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds are still available to cover teacher COVID-19-related work absences. Mullins said most of the ESSER funding has been earmarked for capital projects related to COVID-19 mitigation in buildings.

The original CARES allocations for teacher absences covered up to 10 days of COVID-19-related absences, Mullins said, and providing additional paid days for those absences would have to come out of the division budget.

School board Chairman Larry Greear said it would be good for the board to discuss the COVID-19 absence issue. Board member Donnese Kern asked Mullins to find out how many teachers have had to use days.

Mullins asked board members to consider whether they want to participate in the Virginia School Screening Testing for Assurance program. The state Departments of Health and Education coordinate the program, which provides contractor- supported rapid COVID-19 testing in cases of outbreaks at schools or school events.

Mullins said the ViSSTA program requires parental consent for students to participate, and staff also must provide consent to participate. The division would receive enough tests for about 15% of the total school enrollment.

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