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Students may be able to return to school earlier than expected

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Marion County students from grades 1 through 12 can return to school Jan. 4, 2021, 14 days sooner than health officials originally said last month.

Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, said during a press conference Dec. 10 she is “pretty confident” the county will be in a better position to send students back to school early next year. Schools were originally slated to stay virtual until at least Jan. 18.

Requirements for schools to bring students back for in-person learning include social distancing for students and staff, and students in third grade and up will have to wear masks, which was already a requirement. Caine said students and staff, as well as parents, should avoid unnecessary contact with people outside of their household during the holidays and after to reduce the risk of spread. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reduced its quarantine recommendation from 14 days to 10 or seven days, depending on testing and symptoms. Jan. 4 is 10 days after Christmas, which Caine said should be enough of a buffer period between possible exposure to COVID-19 over the holidays and returning to school.

“Since the CDC has shortened that quarantine period, we feel comfortable that our students can come back on Jan. 4 instead of Jan. 18,” Caine said.

Indianapolis Public Schools and Lawrence Township schools have announced they will not return to in-person learning Jan. 4.

Caine said she’s been in communication with colleagues around the country to compare statistics among school-aged children and plans for schools in different states to make her decision.

School-aged children haven’t been major contributors to the county’s recent rise in cases.

According to data collected by the health department, the bulk of COVID-19 cases — 43% — are found in individuals aged 20 to 39. People aged 40 to 59 were the second most affected, with roughly 30% of Marion County cases found in this age group. There have been significant increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 since early November. 

Cases in Marion County have nearly tripled since November, with over 900 new cases reported per day over the past seven days.

Caine discussed the fact that African Americans in Marion County are disproportionately dying from complications related to COVID-19. She said the health department is working to engage the local Black community to provide more information on the virus, as well as to quell fears about the COVID-19 vaccine.

The city can’t distribute funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act after Dec. 31, leaving some business owners concerned about what lies ahead as cases continue to rise.

“Write or call the leaders of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans and demand action, insist on action. Further delay is inexcusable,” said Mayor Joe Hogsett, noting this is the 10th month of the public health crisis.

The public health order issued in November remains in place:

  • Masks are required.
  • Gatherings are limited to 25 people.
  • Shopping malls and other retail stores are limited to 75% capacity.
  • Bars and nightclubs are limited to 25% indoor capacity but can be fully open outdoors and must be closed midnight to 5 a.m.
  • Restaurants are limited to 50% capacity indoors but can be fully open outdoors and must be closed midnight to 5 a.m.
  • Personal service businesses such as barber shops and nail salons can be open by appointment only.
  • Indoor religious services are limited to 75% capacity.
  • Gyms and fitness centers are limited to 25% capacity.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper. Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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