Education

Two COVID-19 outbreaks days apart at Martin Elementary were isolated incidents, district administrator says

The school has seen the most COVID-19 outbreaks in McHenry County this year

Two COVID-19 outbreaks at Hannah Martin Elementary School just days apart were isolated incidents and the school is working to keep students safe, Huntley School District 158′s associate superintendent said.

The school, located in Lake in the Hills, has seen three COVID-19 outbreaks this school year, including two separate outbreaks in different grades just days apart during the final weeks of October. No other McHenry County school has seen more than two outbreaks this year.

“Each situation is different,” Associate Superintendent Jessica Lombard said. “We take each of those very seriously and want to do what’s best for the community.”

The school was among the first in the county to have an outbreak this year, with the first declared on Sept. 2 after at least two students on a bus tested positive on Aug. 24, according to emails between district officials obtained by the Northwest Herald in a Freedom of Information Act request.

The second outbreaks happened in the school’s fourth grade on Oct. 19 and the school’s third grade on Oct. 25. Lombard said the outbreaks involved five fourth graders and three third graders. Both classrooms were able to remain open after the outbreak was announced.

The Illinois Department of Public Health currently defines a COVID-19 outbreak in a school as at least three connected cases. Earlier in the school year, two cases that could be linked constituted an outbreak.

More than 800 students attend the Lake in the Hills school, according to its website.

It’s not clear what the cause of the spread was.

“I can tell you mitigations are being followed,” Lombard said. “If mitigations aren’t being followed, the health department would not allow us to continue doing those modified quarantines.”

The health department was unable to be reached following multiple attempts since last Thursday to provide more information about the outbreaks.

The school is staying on track to lift its outbreak status by Nov. 20, which is an indication spread has been contained, Lombard said.

She said she has not heard from any concern from parents about the outbreaks, but the school is communicating with parents on updates.

Students and parents have shown a willingness to follow COVID-19 mitigations this year so they can stay in school, Lombard said.

“Would I say there’s something wrong Martin is doing? Absolutely not,” Lombard said.

School buses – a challenge cited by other school districts in McHenry County and beyond – have created challenges for the school when figuring out close contacts, records show.

“If we can verify that the seating on the bus was strictly adhered to, we can do three feet – but we have not been seeing that when tapes are reviewed,” a school nurse said in an email to Jessica Lombard last month.

The bus situation has improved since the beginning of the year, however, Lombard said. Students have decided what their regular seats are for the bus ride, helping to reduce the number of possible students exposed to a positive case of COVID-19.

Vaccines for students also will help reduce quarantines, Lombard said. The district does not track how many students are vaccinated, but with more students eligible to get the shot, vaccinated students can return to the classroom faster if they are exposed to a positive case.