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CORONAVIRUS: Rocky Bayou Christian School cancels classes, Okaloosa to remain open

Special to Gannett Florida
Walton Sun

NICEVILLE — Rocky Bayou Christian School’s campuses in Niceville and Crestview will be closed for a week beginning Monday out of an abundance of caution related to a confirmed case of coronavirus not directly associated with the school.

Meanwhile, Okaloosa County school officials announced Sunday that “(f)or now, school and extracurricular activities will go on as planned.”

In an email issued Sunday, shortly after Rocky Bayou Christian School announced its campus closings, Okaloosa County Schools Assistant Superintendent for Operational Services Steve Horton wrote, “In order to keep our families informed, and in light of word spreading that a private school in Niceville is closing this week in connection with the first presumptive positive case of Coronavirus in Okaloosa County, we will be doing a callout this afternoon to advise parents and employees that school will be in session this week.”

Horton went on to note that the school district continues “to work very closely with the Department of Health, and they advise us that the risk of exposure in Okaloosa County remains low.”

The email also included advice to individual school administrations, telling them to “(p)lease continue to lead your school in efforts to promote regular, thorough handwashing among students and staff and overall cleanliness. Work with your custodial staff and custodial zone managers for any additional needs.”

Horton’s email also reminds school officials that “(u)nder the advice of the Department of Health, anyone exhibiting symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath should stay at home, avoid contact with others, and contact their health care provider.”

Rocky Bayou Christian School made the announcement of its campus closings on Sunday on its Facebook page, telling the school community that “(t)here is a confirmed case of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in a local church in our community that is widely attended by many Rocky staff and families.”

The Facebook announcement does not identify the church where the confirmed coronavirus case has been identified.

The school’s announcement stresses that the week-long closure is a voluntary action on the part of Rocky Bayou Christian School officials, and not one mandated by any outside authorities.

“Your child’s safety is of paramount importance to us and this closure is precautionary only,” the school’s Facebook announcement stated. “There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at either of our campuses.”

The closure beginning Monday will continue through the school’s previously scheduled spring break, set for next week.

“This closure, plus spring break, will allow for the 14-day incubation period, as advised by the CDC (the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the lead government agencies dealing with coronavirus across the United States) to run its course.”

The decision to close classes next week at Rocky Bayou Christian School “puts us in the best position to ensure the safety of everyone on our campuses” the school said via Facebook.

Currently, classes at Rocky Bayou Christian School are slated to resume March 23.

“We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate this virus and do everything we can to ensure your child(ren)’s safety,” the school noted in its Facebook post.

Neither Rocky Bayou Christian School campus could be reached Sunday for comment. The phone message at the Crestview campus, however, already had been changed to reflect that the school would be closed until March 23.

In other weekend developments regarding the local coronavirus situation, a contractor at Eglin Air Force Base who might have been exposed to the virus during a cruise in the Pacific Northwest has tested negative for COVID-19, base officials said Sunday.

96th Test Wing Public Affairs Director Andy Bourland said in a press release that the base’s “96th Medical Group has received the results from the Florida Department of Health for the contractor assigned to the 96th Cyberspace Test Group, who was potentially exposed to COVID-19. The individual was found to be negative for the COVID-19 virus.

“The contractor, however, will remain at home until a close contact with a presumptive case of COVID-19 has tested negative as well,” Bourland added. “If the contractor becomes ill with flu-like symptoms, additional testing will be conducted.”

Bourland said he believed the contractor, who was on the cruise from Feb. 11-21, was notified recently by the cruise line of potential exposure to coronavirus. After receiving that notification, the contractor self-reported his situation to base officials, Bourland said.

Notification of the contractor’s situation was disseminated through the ranks of the 96th Test Wing, and by broader communication across the base, Bourland said, along with guidance for actions such as hand-washing to avoid any spread of any potential presence of COVID-19.

Little new information was available Sunday about the presumptive case of coronavirus in Okaloosa County, but the Florida Department of Health did provide a few new details.

The local victim is a 61-year-old woman who is isolated and will remain isolated until cleared by health officials. She has a history of travel outside the United States, the department said in a press release.

She joins a 66-year-old woman from Volusia County in Florida, who also is a presumptive case. She too has been isolated and will remain so until cleared.

Also, an 81-year old female in Manatee County has been identified as presumptively positive for COVID-19. This person is isolated and will continue to remain isolated until cleared by public health officials. She has a history of recent travel outside of the United States.

A Santa Rosa County man in his 70s with underlying health problems died of the coronavirus on Friday, the Health Department said.

Earlier, the department said people who had traveled on a river cruise on the Nile in Egypt should self-isolate after it became known they might have been exposed to the virus.

“The Department has been made aware that people who were on tours in Egypt, Israel and Jordan between Feb 4-18, 2020 may have been exposed to COVID-19,” FDOH said in a Sunday press release.

“People who traveled to these areas and have become sick are advised to stay home and isolated from others for the duration of their illness. Before seeking medical care, individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19 should contact their nearest county health department.”