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RACINE – City of Racine Public Health Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox said Thursday that she is strongly recommending that schools teach virtually in the second quarter of the 2020-21 school year and until the COVID-19 pandemic data suggests it’s safe for kids to return to the classroom.

Bowersox pointed to statistics that are putting Wisconsin in the top three COVID-19 hotspots in the nation; continued high caseloads within Racine County and the City of Racine; increased COVID-19 hospitalizations in regional medical systems and growth in the numbers of local school students and facility testing positive for the virus.

The Racine Public Health Department covers the City of Racine and the Villages of Wind Point and Elmwood Park. The rest of the county’s municipalities are under the jurisdiction of the Central Racine County Health Department.  

The Racine Unified School District (RUSD) is currently providing virtual instruction to all students. Next Monday, RUSD administrators will announce instructional plans for the second quarter, which starts Nov. 9. The area’s private and parochial schools are generally offering in-person or hybrid instruction models.

In a prepared statement released Thursday afternoon, Bowersox emphasized that she is not ordering local schools to teach virtually but wants school administrators and the general public to know her department’s preference.

“COVID-19 cases are spread throughout the school systems within this jurisdiction. Cases are presenting in children who are learning in person, staff who are teaching both in person and virtually, and in high-risk sports activities at schools,” she said. “The Public Health Department understands the pressures schools are facing to return to in-person learning or to stay in person. It is understood that in-person learning is ultimately best for families, and virtual learning puts enormous pressure on parents in an already difficult time.

“At the same time, Wisconsin remains a COVID-19 hot spot in the nation, Racine County just hit the heartbreaking milestone of 100 deaths from COVID-19, and our job is to issue recommendations that put the health of the community first.”

Bowersox added that based on the current data and experiences related to the COVID-19 pandemic, “if Racine Unified brings back 17,000 students, the spread of the virus could not be controlled.”

Wisconsin recorded 3,747 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, breaking all single-day records, the Wisconsin Department of Health (DHS) reported. The state has seen 167,325 cases and 1,553 deaths since the pandemic began in March.

The DHS also reported Thursday that the COVID-19 positive test rate statewide is 20.8 percent for the past seven days.

Earlier this week, Racine Educators United, the union representing RUSD teachers and educational assistants, issued a statement demanding that the district not return to in-person learning. It also wants teachers to be given the option not to teach from school buildings to reduce the virus’s spread.

The Racine Public Health Department’s news release on Thursday reported that 27 different schools (approximately 2/3 of the schools within the department jurisdiction) had had a positive or probable COVID-19 case identified in the building. There have also been 69 positive cases among students, teachers, and other staff. More than 300 people have been exposed to a COVID-19 person and were, or are, under quarantine.

The department did not specify if these statistics came from public or private schools.

“I understand these are difficult decisions for school leaders. At the same point, when looking at the data and contact tracing results, the recommendation to be virtual is prudent and responsible. Regardless of what schools choose to do, the City of Racine Public Health Department remains committed to supporting them during this difficult time,” Bowersox said.

Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...

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