BLOUNTVILLE — Public schools in Sullivan County, Kingsport and Bristol, Tennessee, likely will reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic in early August under either a mostly nonrestrictive green status or somewhat restrictive yellow status.

The other option is the most restrictive: a red status.

In the latter, learning probably would be mostly virtual for many students or schools closed and virtual learning used, which would be a decision by individual school districts.

These three statuses are dependent on a two-week rolling average number of new COVID-19 cases in the county.

That's according to the medical director of the Sullivan County Regional Health Department, who said Wednesday afternoon the community can help by heeding recommendations to respond to the novel coronavirus.

During an in-person afternoon news conference at the Sullivan County health and education building, health officials and those from the three school systems outlined the Sullivan County Plan. None of the three districts plan to run more buses or bus routes next school year.

"I'm so glad to see everyone wearing masks here today," Dr. Stephen May said at the news conference, adding that masks, hand washing and six-foot social distancing are recommended for all three color scenarios. "Love each other by wearing a mask."

WHY IS CURRENT CONDITION GREEN?

A green start is based on the current Sullivan County average of 3.11 new COVID-19 cases for every 100,000 people over a two-week period, as reported on the Tennessee Department of Health website. However, if the cases average 6 to 10 per 100,000, the status moves to yellow, and when cases exceed 11 per 100,000, the status becomes red.

Kingsport and Bristol are to start Aug. 3, while Sullivan will start either Aug. 3 or Aug. 5. (The county start could be delayed by disinfecting and cleaning after July 31-Aug. 1 graduation ceremonies.)

"My prognosticator is not that good. I'm working on buying a new crystal ball," May quipped. "It's very conceivable we'll be in the yellow zone in the next four to six weeks."

May said yellow would include special accommodations for special needs students, more physical distancing and plexiglass barriers, as well as alternative/virtual learning for some students.

WHAT ABOUT VIRTUAL SCHOOL?

School officials said all three systems will offer online/virtual learning options for those who choose them. However, under new Tennessee Board of Education mandates, virtual learning will look markedly different than the mid-March to May learning at the end of the 2020-21 school year, according to Bristol Director of Schools Annette Tudor.

School systems would not lose state funding for at-home students, but would be required to have the same instructional time and other activities as students physically in school, Tudor said.

"This document (the Sullivan County Plan) can change and likely will change over time," Tudor said.

Tudor, Kingsport Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse and Sullivan County Director of Schools David Cox said the three systems worked closely with May and his staff on the plan.

Cox said the county system would provide meals for virtual students to be picked up at the schools.

"It's amazing what can be accomplished when people are focused on the same outcome, " said Moorhouse, adding that the Kingsport City Schools online program details will be rolled out Monday and Cox adding that the Sullivan County Virtual Learning Academy information is available online.

MASKS, PLEXIGLASS REQUIRED?

For in-person learning under green status, May said masks would be recommended but not required, while under yellow, Tudor said they could be required in some situations and for some in-person learning students.

Other students could be moved to virtual learning, and all remaining have additional social distancing implemented, May noted. However, he said the systems could return to all virtual learning under red.

May said some other mitigating factors, including the number of clusters and community spread, also could affect the schools.

HOW WILL POSITIVE TESTS BE HANDLED?

If a student, faculty or staff member at a school tests positive for COVID-19, May said, a contact investigation would start and determine who had been within six feet of the individual for more than 10 minutes.

He said results of contact numbers would determine if a whole class should be closed temporarily, a larger group of students sent home or the whole school would be closed and its students moved to virtual learning.