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COVID outbreak rumored at school

Record 7 new cases reported Tuesday, 2 more on Wednesday, but health department doesn’t say if county has a cluster

Staff writer

This story, which originally appeared in print, was updated Wednesday evening. Additional, later updates are being made as a new story in Breaking News.

Rampant rumors about a COVID-19 cluster at Marion school district’s office appear to be true, but the information is being kept largely quiet.

School superintendent Aaron Homburg is reported to be in isolation after catching the virus from an undisclosed source.

School board member Doug Regnier confirmed Homburg had COVID, but said Homburg’s wife did not.

Office staff are said to be in quarantine as well.

Phone calls to the district office were not answered Monday or Tuesday.

Chris Mercer, Marion police officer and state fire marshal who is married to district secretary Kristi Mercer, confirmed office staff were all working from home.

Mercer said he could not provide information on the reason because of federal law on privacy of medical records.

School board president Nick Kraus did not know that district office staff were working from home until he was informed of that fact by a reporter from this newspaper.

“I had not heard anything,” Kraus said.

Kraus also did not know calls were not being returned. He said even if staff was working from home, somebody needed to answer the phone.

Some members of Marion High’s football team are said by various sources to be in quarantine.

“I can’t speak for the football team,” Mercer said. “I can’t speak for the cluster.”

High school principal Donald Raymer said he would not talk about the district office, but said football practices were still taking place and a game scheduled for Friday was still planned. A volleyball game Tuesday night took place as scheduled.

“To my knowledge, we haven’t been told anything,” Raymer said.

Athletic director Jason Hett said no members of the football team were in quarantine.

“Not to my knowledge,” Hett said.

One of the team’s coaches is said to be in quarantine. Head football coach Shawn Craft did not respond to a message seeking a call.

Health department administrator Diedre Serene did not provide an answer to the question of whether recent high numbers of COVID-19 cases amounted to a cluster, even though a record-high seven new cases were reported Tuesday, boosting the county’s total to 82.

Tuesday’s press release disclosed only the number of new cases, not ages or genders of the victims. According to the release, 15 cases were active at that time.

“Why do you think nobody believes the things said by the government?” Kraus said.

Serene said earlier this year that ages and genders would sometimes be withheld because that information might identify victims. A 102-year-old’s age was not released after she tested positive July 12.

Serene did not confirm whether football players were in quarantine, saying that information would have to come from the school.

She did say that the recent boost in cases could be linked to preparations for the start of school.

She also said more testing was being done.

“If you look at schools, we’re going to see numbers go up,” Serene said.

An outbreak among employees at Central National Bank, where Homberg's wife works, was reported by several sources but, according to statements made after print deadline, appears to be false.

“I can’t comment on the health of our staff. That’s privileged information,” bank president Todd Heitschmidt said.

After print editions were published, Heitschmidt added that to his knowledge, all bank employees who might have been tested for COVID had tested negative. Presumably this would include the superintendent's wife.

About half the usual number of employee vehicles were seen in the bank parking lot Monday and Tuesday.

Heitschmidt said Tuesday that two employees were off work for health reasons, the nature of which he could not reveal, and one of them was expected back today. The other he expects back by Friday but could not be sure. If she was exposed to COVID, the superintendent's wife would be away from work for two weeks.

Heitschmidt said customers could be assured that staff on duty were COVID-free and that all COVID-19 precautions were being taken.

“Our customers should be safe when they come in,” Heitschmidt said. “We have the drive-up option and the walk-up option. That offers more security for our customers. We do ask our customers when they come in to wear a mask.”

The county has seen a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases this past week. Of the county’s now 84 cases, 22 — nearly a quarter of the total — were reported in the past week. Two new cases — a woman in her 80s and a boy in his teens — were revealed, with ages, after print editions were published Wednesday.

Besides Tuesday’s seven new cases, two new cases were announced Monday — a male in his teens and a female in her 40s.

Confirmed cases like Monday's teen indicate a positive laboratory test. Probable cases like the woman and Wednesday's teen are people who developed symptoms after being exposed to someone sick with the virus. Tests often are regarded as unnecessary in such circumstances.

The spike in cases follows a drop after the city of Marion imposed a mask ordinance.

On Friday, five new cases were reported, two men and two women, all in their 40s, plus another man in his 20s.

On Thursday, three Tabor athletes were placed in isolation with diagnoses of COVID-19, and five other Tabor students — presumably teammates — placed in quarantine.

Asked Tuesday for an update on how those students were doing, Tabor declined to comment.

Last Wednesday, a man and a woman, both in their 40s, were reported.

Countywide, 1,562 tests for the virus have been administered, and 1,478 tests were negative as of Wednesday night. Of the total confirmed and probably cases, 17 remain active — meaning the patient still is undergoing treatment or exhibiting symptoms. None of them are hospitalized.

Last modified Sept. 3, 2020

 

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