Kyle Troutman: Change is in the air

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Almost a month ago, I trepidatiously wrote about a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, and this week marked another optimistic benchmark in the pandemic recovery.

For the first time in nine months, Barry County’s active cases have fallen into the single digits. Numbers have been below 20 through the last month, and this week, only six new cases were reported, bringing the county’s active total to seven.

Lawrence County is not far off, either, having eight active cases last week and 10 this week.

Congregate care facilities, schools and businesses have also seen dramatic drops in cases.

No congregate care facilities tracked in Barry County have had a new case of COVID in 10 weeks now. Monett schools reported only one active case and one quarantine as of April 12. And, no business have had more than 10 active cases in all of 2021.

After a long and trying year, all of this is great news, and it is spawning the next set of questions for locals — where do we go from here?

Local schools are already starting to consider changes the masking protocols, though none are quite fully ready to go 100 percent back to normal. As a precaution, and since it has been the case almost all year for most districts anyway, I imagine protocols locally will likely stay as they are for the remainder of this school year.

I think it would behoove districts to do so, as it would go a long way to ensuring events like graduations and baccalaureates can be held without worry of any outbreak affecting things.

However, I could be wrong. At the Cassville school board meeting last week, it was announced the district has moved from Engagement Level II back down to Engagement Level I. Masking requirements remain in place due to the modified quarantine rules, which have prevented numerous individuals from being required to quarantine out of school.

The goal was also set to return to “traditional school” near the end of May, as well as a summer school experience that is as close to “traditional” as possible.

The measured approach by the district is understandable given how local schools have been affected in the past. This school year alone, Cassville in September had more than 200 students quarantined, including the entire sixth-grade class, and many sports and activities shut down due to quarantines.

Those figures, especially quarantines, began to dip after the state’s modified quarantine rules were adopted in early December. when adopted, Cassville had 96 people within the district quarantined. The next week, that figure dropped to 33, but after Christmas break, another case jumped it up to 39. Numbers finally fell after the two weeks out of school due to winter weather, combined with the availability of vaccines and the about 30-40 percent of Cassville staff that opted to get them. This week, the district has no active cases and only two quarantines.

After all that was said about Cassville requiring masks, one of the last in the area to actually do so, there is no doubt the move helped keep some kids in school. Hopefully, masks will begin to become a thing of the past, but as Superintendent Richard Asbill warned, there is a variant strain of COVID that may affect children more severely and could warrant another round of precautions in the future.

In many ways, summer school will again be a test this year for how things may shape up for the fall. Some local schools, including Cassville, have already said they hope to hold summer school as normally as possible, without any masking requirements.

Last year, after schools were closed statewide in March and summer school began while cases were still minimal, things went smoothly. Then, as rural areas, especially in the midwest, run a few months behind the coasts and larger cities when it comes to disease spread, September to December saw a significant rise in local COVID cases.

Summer school in 2020 may have been a false barometer of the fall to come, but this summer should provide a better idea of how relaxing protocols would affect the 2021-2022 school year.

We are excited to see things start to get back to normal, and happy to see that about 33 percent of eligible individuals in Barry County have received a vaccine.

For all our sakes, we hope the coming year becomes business as usual.

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of The Cassville Democrat since 2014. In 2017, he was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or editor@cassville-democrat.com.