Radnor reaches record high of 208 Covid cases in a single week

RTSDs Covid dashboard graph

RTSD’s Covid dashboard graph

William Meyer and Ellie Davis

With the highly contagious Covid-19 variant, Omicron, grasping the nation, concerns over public health have risen. This past Sunday, RTSD released another report on the district’s covid cases, revealing that during the week of December 31st, last week,  RTSD had 208 reported positive covid cases, a 310% increase from the previous record high of 67 cases.

Two weeks ago, Radnor Township School District released a report on the number of covid cases within the district for the week of December 17th, the week before winter break. The report revealed an immense spike of 67 cases, 14 being Radnor staff and 53 being students. Every prior report from the district hardly scratched the surge presented that week. The highest number of cases in a week used to be 15. After winter break, other nearby school districts that faced a similar surge were forced to either transition to online schooling or even shut down temporarily. Neighboring RTSD, Lower Merion School District delayed classes due to a staffing shortage. LMSD Superintendent Khalid Mumin stated that “classes will resume on January 4th . . .if the adequate staffing is available,”  in an email to parents. Despite the spike in covid cases and precautions at nearby schools, all RTSD schools remained in person. 

This past week, of the 208 cases, the largest demographic hit was Radnor High School students, accounting for 73 of the cases. Elementary school students, a demographic with historically very few to no positive cases, also experienced a dramatic increase in positivity this past week, with 23 cases at IES and 13 cases at both RES and WES. Not all of these students necessarily stepped foot in school or had contact with other students while contagious; nevertheless, the spike is shocking. While 208 cases are monumental, there are likely many more cases unknown to the public.

The Radnor Reader, a weekly newsletter from Radnor Township School District, voices that the “reported cases are based on all cases the district knows about.” Students are instructed to tell either the Nurse’s office or Mrs. Kevgas if they test positive, and these cases are reported to the School District Administration which publicizes the dashboard, said RHS nurse Stephanie Grabuski in an interview. 

 RHS admin has repeatedly put out information urging students to self-report if they test positive, reported Grabuski. Multiple cases, however, among students go unreported for fear of losing valuable time in the classroom or because of negligence. To help track down any positive cases, if teachers hear about any positive cases that have yet to be reported, they too inform administration. Despite this diligence, the true number of covid cases roaming the district is unknown. The difficulty of acquiring accurate numbers through self-reporting is not unique to Radnor, as even at the national level statisticians struggle to make accurate assessments of case numbers when most cases are self-reported. As Grabuski said, “you do what you can.” 

In response to the high numbers, on Sunday night Superintendent Dr. Bachelor sent a message to RTSD families. He cited the recommendation from the CHOP policy lab, which supports keeping schools open. “With evidence that COVID-19 is becoming a milder infection in most children, and at a time when all adults and youth in K-12 settings have been offered vaccination, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and PolicyLab at CHOP support in-person education, even in times of significant community transmission,” reads the report (see CHOP’s full policy recommendation here). The administration cites the lack of in-school transmission as a main factor in the decision to keep schools open. “No student that was contact traced last year tested positive,” said Grabuski. “Our positive cases weren’t coming from sitting next to someone [in school].” Therefore, the school does not consider two students who are masked and sitting three feet apart “close contacts.” Instead, most transmission is coming from outside-of-school social gatherings and sports. 

Considering these guidelines, an anonymous sophomore backing in-person schooling indicated that “while cases have been going up, I believe online [learning] is not the best choice.” Although covid cases have spiked, “Radnor is following guidelines from the CDC” and “12-15 [year-olds] were just approved for their [covid] booster, meaning that all of the high school has access to receiving a vaccine.” With all of the safety regulations, “Radnor [is] doing all it can to stay safe …[so] there is no need to go online with all the factors in play.” An additional common concern the student voiced was online learning’s negative impact on mental health. They said that “being on zoom for eight hours five days a week” is draining and many feel isolated with a lack of motivation to complete assignments. The student asserted that Omicron’s surge should pass within a few weeks, and Radnor should stick to the health and safety plan of in-person learning. 

From an opposing standpoint, the argument for online school has been strongly correlated to recent concerns over Omicron. Another anonymous sophomore backing online classes expressed that “Radnor should offer a virtual program for the comfort and security it would provide students over these trying next few weeks.” After the recently publicized covid report, the student has “mixed emotions,” stating that they are “incredibly concerned about the rapidly increasing numbers and the number of people sick in our community and the world.” Aiming for a resolution between “people of every viewpoint,” the student proposed to “restart the program we did for the majority of last year, where students were allowed to be virtual or in person, whichever suited them best.”

 Further updates from the district on whether schools will take further safety precautions or possibly transition to online instruction still await. For now, RTSD remains steadfast on following the health and safety plan and remaining open with a current total of 208 cases and a 37.46% positivity rate in Delaware county.