COVID-19 outbreak investigations are currently ongoing at Washington-Liberty High School and another unnamed Arlington public school.
The W-L investigation started after four students tested positive between March 23-31.
“Based on guidance from the [Arlington County Public Health Department], we quarantined all students and staff who were in close contact with any of the individuals who tested positive,” said a letter to families from Zachary Pope, APS’s director of emergency management, and Principal Tony Hall. “All health and safety protocols were being followed at school, which allowed W-L staff to respond quickly with ACPHD to prevent further transmission,” they said.
Arlington County Public Health Department spokeswoman Jessica Baxter confirmed that investigations were underway at two schools, but declined to name them.
Over the last couple of months, Arlington Public Schools expanded access to two days of in-person instruction a week across all grade levels. In that time, the school system has reported 84 COVID-19 cases among students and staff.
APS declined to answer questions about COVID-19 cases because “it is private health-related information,” according to spokesperson Frank Bellavia.
But once one case is confirmed in a classroom, the entire class is sent home for up to two weeks of virtual learning while contact tracing is conducted, according to APS guidelines. Deciding whether an entire school should go virtual requires working closely with ACPHD, the guidance says.
This approach to identifying and quarantining students and staff — much like the reopening discussion thus far — has drawn support from some and frustration from others, who see the policy affecting too many students on the periphery of a case.
Across the school system, APS has reported 63 positive cases and eight cases where information is “not available” among students since March, when most started returning to classrooms.
Among teachers — who returned in February — and other school employees, there have been 21 reported positive cases. Of those, 13 cases are among teachers and eight cases are among staff.
So far, the central APS office at Syphax Education Center and the school system’s transportation department, which operates school buses, have the highest number of cases, with four each.
Views about the school system’s reporting of and response to COVID-19 cases vary among School Board contenders and parents.
(Updated at 10:20 p.m.) The Overlee Community Association pool closed after a reported COVID-19 case and possible outbreak this week.
The private swim club was shuttered last night, with a sign on the door saying: “Closed, see email from Board coming soon.” Multiple sources tell ARLnow the closure is due to COVID-19. Members are reportedly being told that the pool was closed as a precaution after one person who recently visited the pool tested positive.
Two people independently described the situation to ARLnow as people getting COVID-like symptoms following a swim meet over the weekend.
“Overlee pool has a big outbreak on their swim team with coaches, kids and parents with symptoms and positive tests,” said one tipster, whose children work at another private swim club in Arlington. “We’re worried COVID cases are being concealed, endangering pool staff and guests.”
“Seems like Overlee pool has had a significant COVID outbreak after holding an intrasquad swim meet on Saturday,” said another tipster. “Lots of cases in the community. Expecting a message this afternoon.”
Thus far, neither the association nor the county has provided additional information about the situation to ARLnow.
An email to the Overlee Community Association’s board president last night has not been returned. A spokeswoman for Arlington’s public health department declined comment.
Arlington’s seven-day rate of new coronavirus cases rose to 124 today, the highest point since June 13. Two of the county’s indoor public pools, in Washington-Liberty and Yorktown high schools, reopened on Saturday.
Coronavirus is believed to spread primarily through respiratory droplets in the air, not in the water.
A number of readers have criticized ARLnow following the publication of this article, which has since been updated with new information provided to us.
“I implore you to remove the Overlee swim club article. It is not accurate,” wrote one. “There is no outbreak. The county worked with the pool to notify individuals that may have been at risk after one member reported a positive test.”
“Most of the facts and anonymous tips were completely untrue and unbelievable as member of Overlee and a member of the swim team I am hear to tell you that all these anonymous tips are actually just straight false information from other rival swim teams,” wrote another person, in an anonymous tip. “The meet held on Saturday was very small and everyone was social distancing and was required to wear masks.”
Overlee members were subsequently sent an email Thursday night, referencing “a local website’s erroneous article,” but also revealing that three Overlee members have tested positive.
A person with knowledge of the outbreak, who spoke to ARLnow on the condition of anonymity, said that even that number is understated — multiple members of multiple families have tested positive, we’re told. The positive cases appear to be linked to an intrasquad swim meet on Saturday, the person said.
The Overlee email is below.
Overlee Membership –
Due to concerns regarding a local website’s erroneous article about Overlee, we are providing the information below as clarification and to be as transparent as possible to our Overlee Community members.
As stated in Tuesday’s email to members and due to HIPAA restrictions, Overlee is not allowed to divulge any information, including date and time of possible exposure, to entities other than health departments and healthcare officials. Overlee is working with the Arlington County Health Department and providing them with information as requested, which includes the day and times the individual(s) were at the pool. The ArlCo Health Department will contact any members they determine to be a “close contact” during the investigation. Please cooperate with their investigation, if contacted.
Upon notification on Tuesday by the first member testing positive for COVID-19, and out of an abundance of caution, we closed the pool immediately. Subsequently, we’ve been notified by 2 other members about their positive results (neither of whom were at the pool after it was disinfected).
The entire facility was disinfected and deep-cleaned several times and reopened Thursday. The ArlCo Health Department has been entirely supportive of the Overlee pool remaining open and of the protocols Overlee has taken and continues to take for the health and safety of staff and members, to include the masks/face coverings and physical distancing policies.
Management and swim team coaches have been tested and their results are all negative. The staff has been following Overlee’s strict safety procedures at all times.
If you and your family members were following the protocols while at Overlee – more than 6 feet of spacing from others, conversations less than 15 minutes, and mask/face covering on at all times – your exposure level is considered “very low” and you are not considered a close contact, according to the ArlCo Health Department.
We thank these members for being forthcoming with their results regarding the health and safety of our staff and members. We send them our best wishes and hope each of them has a quick and full recovery.
Editor’s note: ARLnow previously reported on COVID-19 outbreaks at local long-term care facilities, with the help of anonymous sources. We made the decision to do that reporting, despite repeated refusals to release information by county and state authorities, in the interest of providing a fuller picture of the spread of the virus in the community. Reports of large outbreaks at such facilities turned out to be accurate. As an organization, we will continue to provide information on COVID cases we believe to be well-founded, even in the absence of official confirmation, which has unfortunately proved nearly impossible to receive in most cases.
Kurt Larrick, assistant director of the Arlington County Department of Human Services, said in an email that the Arlington County Public Health Department is taking several steps to monitor the disease.
Per an email from Larrick:
- ACPHD staff continue to update hospital and healthcare communities with guidance on how to identify and respond to possible cases.
- ACPHD will arrange appropriate lab testing
- If there are any cases in Arlington, ACPHD staff will follow CDC guidance about identifying and monitoring close contacts of a case.
- Staff are available 24/7 to provide this support.
Larrick said the department has a new page on the coronavirus outbreak that includes the latest info, who’s at risk, and what people should do to protect themselves and others.
“The Virginia Department of Health is a good resource,” Larrick said. “They plan to provide updates every Thursday and/or as warranted.”
Several health tips are available on the County website, mostly the usual of “wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds” and to stay home if you’re feeling sick. Also, you should probably avoid traveling to China.
The number represents only 0.4 percent of the 24,529 students currently enrolled in APS. There are only two reasons a student is allowed to attend school without receiving proper immunizations: medical or religious reasons.
“For a medical exemption, a letter must be written from a licensed medical provider stating specifically from which immunizations a child is exempt,” Arlington School Health Bureau Chief Marian Harmon said in an email. “For a religious exemption, the parent must complete the religious exemption form for immunizations and have it notarized.”
Childhood vaccinations have been thrust into the national spotlight after a measles outbreak started at Disneyland in California and has spread to at least 94 people in eight states, according to NBC News. The disease had been largely eradicated in the U.S., but since the Centers for Disease Control reported the disease was brought from overseas, children whose parents declined vaccinations have fallen victim to the highly contagious infection.
Politicians from both sides of the aisle have urged parents to vaccinate their children, shooting down controversial reports from years back that linked vaccinations to autism. Those studies have since been debunked, but the anti-vaccination movement is still prevalent enough in the U.S. to contribute to the largest number of measles cases in 20 years.
Harmon says APS tracks which students have vaccination exemptions, and makes sure to notify parents when there is a disease outbreak at the child’s school.
“School Health works with Arlington Public Schools and Arlington County Communicable Disease staff to determine the needs for that student and their exposure risk,” she said.
APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said there are no suspected cases of measles in the county.
Wakefield Advances to ‘It’s Academic’ Championship — The Wakefield High School ‘It’s Academic’ team was a runner-up in the Northern Region tournament and is advancing to the state championship later this month. [Sun Gazette]
Norovirus Outbreak in Arlington Schools — A minor norovirus outbreak has been reported in two Arlington County public schools. So far, none of the norovirus cases have required hospitalization. [Arlington Connection]
New Capital Bikeshare Station Near Rosslyn — A new Capital Bikeshare station is coming to North Meade Street Park, near Rosslyn. [Ode Street Tribune]
The county issued a short statement to ARLnow.com last night confirming they’re “currently investigating reports of gastrointestinal (GI) illness at a long-term care facility.”
Citing “confidentiality rules,” a Department of Human Services spokesman refused to identify the facility. A source, however, tells us the facility is the Sunrise at Bluemont Park (5910 Wilson Blvd) senior living community.
The source says paramedics were called to the building on Wednesday. Medics then called the health department.
“We have not yet identified the cause of the illness; however, it is not uncommon to have GI illness due to Norovirus this time of year,” DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick said. “We are working with the facility on ways to control the spread of illness.”
The county said members of the public can help stop the spread of Norovirus and other gastrointestinal illnesses by washing one’s hands frequently with warm water and soap for 20 seconds and by staying at home if you feel sick.
“Please postpone visiting an assisted living facility, nursing home or hospital” if you’re sick and “keep your sick children home from school,” the county advised.