Stay Informed, Not Infected


Katie Tanner, Contributor

On March 13, 2020, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey announced that all schools would close for two weeks due to rising COVID-19 cases across the state. That was then extended another two weeks, then until the end of the semester, and then we were virtual and/or hybrid until partway through the spring semester of 2021. So far we have not been virtual due to COVID-19 during the 2021-2022 school year. However, that decision is now being questioned. 

During the second term of this school year, a masking matrix was created announcing that, should the community positivity rate fall into the moderate category (5%-7.99%), masks would be optional at the secondary level.

Going into the spring semester, it was announced that masks would again be required as cases continued to rise. In a survey of Bob Jones High School students, when asked to identify the current community positivity rate, one student said “usually it’s pretty low like, like less than 5 but I’m assuming that if the school board thought it was bad enough to mandate masks again, that it’s probably more around the 5-7 range.” 

In reality, the current community positivity rate as of Friday, January 7th, was 40.7%. 10% is listed as critically high, and we are at 40.7%. Only 20.8% of respondents could correctly state the current community positivity rate, despite 100% of respondents having opinions on the virtual or in-person debate. 

One student, who wants to stay in person and incorrectly guessed the community positivity rate to be 10%, said that “we should have the option to wear masks. Cloth masks are pointless and are worse for students long term than covid will be.” A little piece of cloth does not cause permanent lung damage nor does it cause the need for intubation. 

Cases are not just rising in the Madison City School District; they’re rising in Madison county overall. On January 7th, 1,158 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the county. A month prior, on December 7th, only 42 new COVID-19 cases were reported. 

This raises questions as to whether schools should stay in-person or go virtual. Several schools in the state began the spring semester in virtual, including Mountain Brook High School. Eufala City Schools and Dothan City Schools have also gone virtual for at least a few days to deal with a rise in numbers and staffing issues. While student absences due to COVID-19 are an issue, the bigger concern is teacher absences. There are few substitute teachers available. Last week, 35 Madison City Schools staff members tested positive for COVID-19. An additional 31 staff members were quarantined. Who is watching those classes? Teaching those students? How does a school stay in person if there is no one to teach in person?

Many survey respondents said that while they did not want to return to virtual schooling, it may be required to limit infections. No one truly wants to be virtual. No one wants their senior year ruined. But no one wants to spend spring break at Huntsville Hospital, or prom on a ventilator, or graduation at home in bed. It is early enough in the semester now that, if we can get cases under control, we still get to have those things. It is important to prioritize health and safety over getting to see your friends and going to school without a mask. If we can go virtual just because it’s a little too cold for comfort, we can go virtual when 66 staff members are out sick or quarantined. 

Some survey respondents indicated that a few weeks of hybrid schooling would help decrease the transmission rates in schools, and they are right. Decreasing the number of people in a classroom at any given point does effectively decrease the transmission rate. That is why, last school year, we went hybrid before going fully in person. Now, with a spike in cases due to an extremely transmissible variant, it would be wise to do whatever we can to decrease transmission. Hybrid schooling allows for more direct learning than going fully virtual, so while it may slow curriculum down slightly, it can’t be argued that it doesn’t allow for actual learning. Hybrid schooling is the best option to keep as many people healthy as possible, especially since we are now contending with ineffectual quarantine guidelines.

If you refuse to put in the minimal effort to stay informed on COVID-19 cases in the Madison City School District, then you do not get to have an opinion on what we do to try to limit those cases. If you want to go back to mask-optional and ensure we are able to stay in person for the rest of the semester, do your part to bring down the COVID-19 cases. Get vaccinated. Get your booster shot. Wear a mask.