School districts in Kentucky, Texas cancel classes amid 'surge' of illnesses including COVID

The districts said attendance had fallen due to sick staff and students.

August 25, 2023, 12:57 PM

Just weeks into the new school year, districts in multiple states are canceling in-person classes for several weeks due to respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, among students and staff.

Two school districts in Kentucky -- Lee County School District and Magoffin County Schools -- said they were closing due to "widespread illness."

LCD canceled classes on Tuesday and Wednesday and switched to virtual classes on Thursday and Friday.

"We're seeing a lot of illness being reported consistent with COVID and influenza," Scott Lockard, public health director for the Kentucky River District -- which includes Lee County -- told ABC News. "Lee County had a surge of cases and attendance dropped below the threshold needed to stay open, so they closed."

He said there's been an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases but the true number of infections may be higher due to at-home test results not being reported to the health department.

Lockard said there is a concern that cases could increase heading into the fall and winter and encouraged people to get vaccinated with the flu and new COVID booster to prevent others from getting sick.

A school bus is seen in an undated stock photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

"Stay home when you're sick," he said. "Previously it was a seen as a badge of courage, 'Oh I haven't missed a day of work in 40 years. I went to work sick.' We don't want to see people saying that. We want, 'I had symptoms, so I stayed home because I'm considerate of my coworkers.'"

Meanwhile, Magoffin County Schools announced it would be closed Thursday and Friday and classes would be remote.

Pete Shepherd, director of the county's Public Health Department, told ABC News there were reports of illnesses including COVID, strep and stomach viruses during the first two weeks of school.

During the third week, COVID cases kept increasing and attendance fell to 83% on Wednesday, leading to the decision to close the school.

Shepherd said Monday and Tuesday there were a combined 40 cases of COVID in the county reported by doctors, mostly among children. Additionally, he said many parents called the department to let them know their child was sick.

"The good news is the symptoms have not been as severe," Shepherd said. "The kids are not as sick. Small temperature, feeling bad, flu-like symptoms."

He added that because precautions related to COVID-19 have been relaxed, including masking, he expected there will be "a lot more flu cases" compared to seasons during the pandemic where there were few to no cases.

In Texas, Runge Independent School District -- located on Karnes County, 50 miles southeast of San Antonio -- told parents in a letter that it would be closing from Aug. 22 through Aug. 29 and canceling all extracurricular activities due to COVID cases, according to ABC affiliate KSAT.

"The safety and well-being of our students, staff, and community is a top priority," superintendent Hector Dominguez Jr. said in a statement.

The district did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment. On the district's website, the COVID tracker shows 10 active cases in Runge ISD as of Aug. 21, all among staff.

According to the latest report from Texas Health and Human Services, new probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state have increased 29% in recent weeks.

COVID hospitalizations have also increased by about 10% from 992 to 1,096, but it's not been linked to a rise in deaths with COVID fatalities decreasing in the state.

Nationally, COVID hospitalizations increased for the fifth consecutive week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the week ending Aug. 12, hospitalizations rose from 10,370 to 12,612, CDC data shows. Despite the increase, it's still among the lowest hospitalizations recorded since the pandemic began.

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