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Whitaker Worried Outbreak May Impact Schools

Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kevin Whitaker warned against “COVID fatigue” during this week’s meeting of the board of education. P-J photo by Cameron Hurst

The superintendent of the Jamestown Public Schools is advising the community to not give into “COVID fatigue,” as the holidays near and as new coronavirus cases continue to appear locally.

“We’ve done a great job between our students and staff and our maintenance crews and they have helped us maintain our protocols,” Kevin Whitaker told members of the district’s board of education this week, warning against community spread. “We just need parents helping us with making sure our kids are acting appropriately and following the procedures.”

He added, “Because of how disciplined we’ve been in keeping our school buildings clean and up to protocol, it’s not going to be at school where there’s a huge eruption. It’s going to be locally or nearby.”

He cited a recent outbreak of cases at Tanglewood Group properties, Tanglewood Manor and Memory Garden as examples.

“It finally happened and we’ve seen it in other communities and locally,” Whitaker said. “We hope it doesn’t continue because it will impact our ability to bring back more classes.”

Whitaker’s comments come on the heels of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s use of micro-clusters to address COVID-19 outbreaks. The governor, in a Wednesday briefing, said the strategy detects small outbreaks and takes action to eliminate them by categorizing areas in “cluster zones.”

Those zones, designated based on geographic case prevalence and restrictions are implemented accordingly based on the severity of the spread, according to a state release. Buffer zones with fewer restrictions are implemented in the areas outside the most impacted areas to help prevent further spread. After 14 days, data will be reviewed to determine whether a focus area has successfully reduced viral spread to the level where restrictions can be eased.

That announcement, Whitaker believes, pairs well with the state’s decision not to enforce a travel advisory on neighboring Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey due to logistic concerns.

“It means that an outbreak is not going to shut down the whole state, but rather (Cuomo’s) going to look for border areas that have micro-clusters and address the issue through the micro-cluster,” Whitaker said, noting that he still has questions.

“I don’t know what the procedures will look like when the rubber hits the road,” he said. “What about border communities who have congregate facilities and prisons? Those are the places where it spreads once it gets in and if it happens and suddenly there are 90 sudden cases in Jamestown, is that different from 90 cases in a specific facility? It just makes me wonder how that ripple effect will really be.”

All the more reason to continue to take the guidelines seriously, he said. The challenge, however, is a fatigue of following said guidelines.

“I believe that there is COVID fatigue,” he said. “We have been at this thing for seven, eight months. People are getting tired of the masks and the hand washing, but it has to continue. The issue with fatigue is completely understandable. It’s human nature.”

Likening the vigilance to operating a motor vehicle, he explained that it only takes one mistake to make a negative impact.

“I used to teach driver’s education and I always used to tell students that the reason intersections are dangerous is because they won’t kill you,” he said. “You can go through 100 intersections and everything’s fine. But you get lulled into this sense of complacency and it’s the one time your car doesn’t stop at a red light that will get you.”

He added, “It’s the same thing with COVID — It’s the one time that you go to that gathering and somebody is sick and the next thing you know COVID erupts. It’s two people then eight people then 70 people. It only takes that one time you come across the contagious person or super spreader and suddenly it’s out of control.”

“That’s why I hope that everyone stays vigilant,” he said. “Please wash your hands, please wear your masks, use hand sanitizer and be careful about those large gatherings. How things are going at home impact how things are going at school.”

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