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UPDATED: COVID-19 outbreak at Woodbridge High stemmed from school athletics

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UPDATED: A COVID-19 outbreak Woodbridge Senior High School reported by the Virginia Department of Health on Friday involves positive cases stemming from school athletics, according to Principal Heather Abney.

The Woodbridge High outbreak was the 11th involving a public or private K-12 school in the Prince William Health District.

The exact number of cases involved in the  outbreak at Woodbridge Senior H.S. has not yet been disclosed on the VDH website, meaning the number is more than two but fewer than five. If there are fewer than five cases involved in an outbreak, the number is "suppressed" for privacy reasons on the VDH website.

The Woodbridge High outbreak stems from a case first reported to the local health district on Wednesday, April 7. The VDH defines an outbreak as two or more cases linked by a common exposure to an ill person, setting or event within a certain timeframe.

In an April 16 letter to parents, Abney said the VDH "is investigating the possible connection of multiple cases" at the school. The letter was updated to note that the cases stemmed from extracurricular activities.

Prince William County Public Schools has so far had six school-based outbreaks of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Woodbridge Senior H.S. is the third county high school to have an outbreak. It follows a December outbreak at Charles J. Colgan Sr. High School involving fewer than five cases and a February outbreak at Brentsville District High School involving 10 cases.

Three county elementary schools have also had outbreaks of COVID-19. Both Fannie Fitzgerald Elementary School, in Woodbridge, and Montclair Elementary, in Montclair, had outbreaks in late January. There were seven cases tied to the Montclair Elementary outbreak and fewer than five at Fannie Fitzgerald.

John Jenkins Elementary, in Woodbridge, had an outbreak of fewer than five cases stemming from a March 12 outbreak, according to VDH data.

Five private schools in Prince William County and Manassas have had outbreaks, including Christ Chapel School and Evangel Christian School, both in Woodbridge; All Saints Catholic School, in Manassas; and the Linton Hall School in Bristow. The largest outbreak was at Evangel Christian, with 19 cases.

All told, at least 70 cases have been associated with the school-based outbreaks in the Prince William Health District, according to VDH data.

They represent just a fraction of the more than 2,300 cases reported among Prince William County students and staff since the pandemic began, according to the COVID-19 dashboard on the school division's website.

So far, 197 cases involving students and staff working both in schools and from home have been reported in April. The school division reported 19 new cases on Friday, April 16 alone.

January saw the most cases in the school division with 899, according to the school division's COVID-19 dashboard.

Tuesday, Feb. 9: COVID-19 outbreaks reported at 2 Prince William schools, 4 private schools

The Virginia Department of Health has identified at least one additional outbreak of COVID-19 at a Prince William County school and two more at local private schools, for a total of six outbreaks in local K-12 schools since the pandemic began.

The VDH defines an “outbreak” as two or more laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases that occur within a 14-day period among people who do not share a household and have not been identified as close contacts in another setting.

The number of outbreaks, as defined by VDH, are far lower than the total number of cases reported by Prince William County schools on its own dashboard.

The school division reports all cases among students and staff – including those experienced by students and teachers working virtually. The total number of cases reported in the school division as of Feb. 8 is 1,571.

The latest VDH-declared “outbreak” in a Prince William County public school occurred at Montclair Elementary School, located in Montclair.

The outbreak involved seven cases, the first of which was reported to the school division on Jan. 7. The outbreak first appeared on the VDH website on Friday, Feb. 8.

The school division did not disclose how the seven cases split among students and staff because of privacy concerns. It was not immediately known Tuesday how many students or staff had to quarantine at home as a result of the outbreak. All who did have since returned to school, according to Diana Gulotta, the school division spokeswoman.

The school division has been informed by the VDH that an outbreak has been identified at Benita Fitzgerald Elementary School in Woodbridge, Gulotta said.

But that outbreak had not yet appeared on the VDH website as of Friday, Feb. 5. The VDH updates its “outbreaks by setting” dashboard once a week on Fridays.

Charles J. Colgan High School was the first Prince William County school at which an official outbreak was identified. That outbreak involved between two and four cases and stemmed from a case first reported to the school division on Dec. 10. It was first reported on the VDH website on Jan. 22.

The school division investigates each outbreak, but Gulotta did not say if officials were able to determine how the outbreaks occurred.

The school division has said its mitigation strategies – which include requiring students and staff to wear face masks and mandating social distancing in classes and on school buses – are helping to keep COVID-19 cases at bay among the 13,500 students now learning in person, mostly on a two-day-a-week hybrid schedule.

Still, hundreds of students and staff members have had to quarantine because of exposures to COVID-19 in school buildings, which have resulted in dozens testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

From Jan. 15 to Feb. 1, 261 students and 90 staff members had to quarantine because of a close contacts with a positive COVID-19 case in a school building. At least one student and six staff members have fallen ill with COVID-19 because of an in-school exposure during that time, according to school division data presented at the Feb. 3 school board meeting.

During the same period, 328 students and 134 staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Among students who tested positive, 225 were attending school virtually, 91 were attending school in-person and 12 were participating in school athletics.

Among staff who tested positive from Jan. 15 to Feb. 1, 37 were teaching virtually and 97 were working in schools.

Private school outbreaks

Local private schools with newly reported outbreaks include Christ Chapel Academy, a Christian school in Woodbridge, and Linton Hall School, a Catholic pre-K though 8th grade school in Bristow.

The outbreak at Linton Hall School involved five cases. It was first reported on the VDH website on Friday, Feb. 8, and stemmed from a case first reported to the school on Jan. 11, according to Linton Hall Head of School Elizabeth Poole.

The grade in which the positive case was identified reverted to virtual instruction until Monday, Feb. 1. It was the first outbreak identified at the school, which has been operating 100% in-person since August, Poole said in an email.

“I am extremely proud that Linton Hall School has been able to stay open since August, especially as we are 100% in-person,” Poole wrote.

Linton Hall School has been operating with COVID-19 protocols, including mask-wearing and social distancing, but its regular class sizes of 24 students have not been reduced because their building is large enough to allow for social distancing even with full classes, Poole said.

Christ Chapel Academy, a pre-K through 12th grade Christian school in Woodbridge, was the site of an outbreak involving 10 cases. It was first reported on the VDH website on Friday, Feb. 5, and dated back to Jan. 27.

A Christ Chapel school official could not immediately answer questions about the outbreak on Tuesday.

Previous outbreaks have been reported at All Saints Catholic School in Manassas and Evangel Christian School in Dale City.

Reach Jill Palermo at jpalermo@fauquier.com

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(4) comments

Bluto

Boring...guess what, there is a virus going around. Some people get it. 99%+ recover, a few don't. Treatments have gotten better with a better understanding of the virus. Let's move forward with life. We can't live in isolation and hide forever.

GoSteelers

Just an FYI- Pretty sure the school is Fannie W Fitzgerald Elementary located on Benita Fitzgerald Drive

Jtrain21

I think it is hard to call it a school “outbreak” when one member of the family contracts COVID from work and the family of 5 kids is exposed. I mean, what is the transmission rate in the school? Student to student or staff? These are the details one should have waited to get clear answers on before publishing the article.

The headline is disingenuous, in my opinion.

yr12

As a parent from Christ Chapel Academy, I applaud them on how proactive and quick to take action they have been, when there is an outbreak. As parents we have been very comfortable with our children continuing to attend the school, due to how quickly they communicate with us with any covid cases that pop up, even if they do not affect us directly.

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