A second Wayne County school has been closed due to a coronavirus outbreak

Wayne County Schools has closed a second school for in-person instruction due to a coronavirus outbreak.

The district reported Thursday that four staff members and two students at North Drive Elementary School have contracted the virus. Neither the students nor staff members have been on the campus since last week, the district said in a statement posted on its website.

Former Wake County Public Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill is trying to sort out the financial mess in the Wayne County school system.

The school will transition to remote instruction for two weeks. The district closed Brogden Primary School for in-person instruction a week ago after several staffers tested positive for the virus.

North Drive is the district’s first coronavirus cluster because the infections are connected, Interim Superintendent James Merrill said.

“The school had four reported cases between October 6 and October 9,” Merrill said. “Today, (Oct. 15) we learned about two additional cases. Based on contract tracing, we believe these cases are connected.”

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) defines a cluster as five laboratory confirmed cases within a 14-day period and plausible epidemiologic linkage between cases, explained Ken Derksen, the district’s spokesman.

“So, it is possible to have more than five cases on a campus and not have connections between cases,” Derksen said.

North Drive was deep cleaned last weekend by a professional cleaning service after the district started seeing a higher than usual number of cases over the course of a week. District officials said a second deep cleaning will occur before any staff or students return to the building.

Wayne County is home to the largest school coronavirus cluster in the state. Wayne Christian Academy has 34 cases. Twenty-eight of the cases are children and six are staff members.

The closures of Brogden and North Drive come as school districts across North Carolina prepare to reopen schools for in-person instruction. The state is also seeing a disturbing uptick in the number of positive tests. On Thursday, state health officials reported an upward trend in hospitalizations, new cases and hospital emergency room visits by people with COVID-like symptoms.

“We have to be diligent in the middle of this pandemic as we try to educate children to the best of our ability,” said Tiffany Kilgore, president of the Wayne County Association of Educators. “We can’t stop COVID-19 from coming into the schools but we can slow it down by wearing masks and social distancing as much as possible.”

Kilgore has said the district should only offer remote instruction until the virus is under control.

“There’s no win-win,” Kilgore said Friday. “I think it would be cheaper given our financial issues but we would have to reassure our bus drivers and our cafeteria staff that we would be able to continue to pay them if we move to remote learning.”

Community leaders and others believe the district’s financial problems prevented it from adequately preparing to bring students and staff safely back to school buildings for in-person instruction.

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