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Hawkins schools opening Aug. 4 if new COVID-19 cases don't surpass threshold

Jeff Bobo • Jul 7, 2020 at 8:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Assuming the number of new COVID-19 cases in Hawkins County doesn’t increase drastically at some point in July, the first day of classes for the school system will be Aug. 4 as originally scheduled.

How Hawkins County begins the school year depends directly on where the county stands on the Tennessee Department of Health’s COVID-19 “Epi-Curves” monitoring, which keeps a daily count of the number of new cases per county.

Any county that is below the ratio of 10 new cases per 100,000 population over a 14-day period, such as Hawkins County, is in the “green zone.” Schools within green zone localities can open as usual, although social distancing and health precautions are recommended.

Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the Times News on Monday the beginning of school on Aug. 4 will be as normal as possible under these unique circumstances, but students, parents and staff will be asked to take precautions.

“As of today (Monday) we’re sitting at 1.72 per 100,000, and we’re at 2.53 new cases per 100,000 population over the past two weeks,” Hixson said. “If we were to surpass that threshold of 10, we would enter the yellow zone, and we would be looking at a hybrid opening — bringing half the student body in to the classroom and doing half in virtual classroom — and alternating students between classroom and virtual.”

There are 26 yellow zone counties across the state, including three in East Tennessee: Hamblen (26.57), Cocke (12.68), and Sevier (30.56). 

Based on Hawkins County’s actual population of approximately 60,000, it currently has ratio of 1.36 new COVID-19 cases per 14 days.

“In the green phase, everything is normal, but obviously we’re going to have precautions in place,” Hixson said. “We’re going to be encouraging hand washing, social distancing of students, and family members sitting beside each other on school buses to minimize the mixing of students. We’re going to have sanitizer on the buses and at the school sites. We’re going to encourage masks, but not mandate masks. It will be largely student and parent decisions, as well as staff decision while we’re within the green zone.”

Meanwhile, work continues on the Volunteer High School football field conversion to artificial turf. The old natural turf has been scraped off, and workers are leveling and packing the new base where the turf will lie.

Because Gov. Bill Lee extended Tennessee’s state of emergency through the end of August, among the activities banned during that time are contact sports. As a result, high school football has been been rescheduled to begin after Sept. 1.

Volunteer’s artificial surface is currently being manufactured and is expected to be ready for installation in 30 days. That should allow the project to be completed in time for the first scheduled home game, Hixson said.

“There will be a normal football season if we continue to stay in that green zone, but a lot of that will be determined by who we play and what zone they’re in,” Hixson said. “It’s not just us. It’s the competitors. If they’re still in their green zone, then we can play them. If not, then we have to make adjustments and look at other solutions.”

Hawkins County’s school startup plan was reviewed and approved by the regional health department, and on Wednesday the Board of Education will meet in special session to ask questions about the plan and vote on it. The BOE meeting starts at 10 a.m. and will be open to the public at the bus shop training center on East Main Street in Rogersville.

The meeting can also be viewed via ZOOM. Access to the ZOOM link is available on the Hawkins County School System website at https://www.hck12.net/.

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