(WFXR) — School officials and health officials around southwest and central Virginia are working to continue in-person learning while also minimizing the potential health risks at schools amid the coronavirus pandemic as students kick off the second semester.

Health officials say that the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts (RCAHD) are at record high community transmission rates as of Wednesday, Jan. 5. 

“The greater the community level of transmission is, the greater the risk of transmission within school settings if we compromise on the mitigation strategies that we know work,” the health districts said in Wednesday’s update.

According to the RCAHD, vaccination is the best way to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death, which is why everyone over the age of five is encouraged to get vaccinated, as well as obtain booster shots once eligible.

Click here to set up a vaccine appointment or to learn more about vaccination efforts within the health districts. You can also check out coronavirus testing locations on the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) website.

“Furthermore, RCAHD also strongly encourages all school boards to continue to protect our school staff and our children by employing a multi-layered approach to COVID-19 until our community transmission rates decline significantly from current numbers,” the RCAHD stated. “This layered approach is currently required for a very good reason: it works.:

Health officials outlined the following multi-layered approach to decrease the risk of transmission of COVID-19 within school settings:

  • Social distancing, even though recognizing that six-foot distancing may not always be practical in all situations
  • Testing those who are sick or who have close contact to someone who has COVID, which can be a challenge due to the extremely high demand for testing supplies
  • Contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine to slow the spread of the coronavirus

“While all these layers are important in managing the current Omicron surge, I need to stress the importance of maintaining universal indoor masking in our schools. Masking is currently required and should stay in place until our levels of community transmission significantly decrease. Now is not the time to experiment with our teachers’ and our children’s health,” said Dr. Cynthia Morrow, director of the RCAHD.

Morrow held an online briefing on Thursday, Jan. 6 to discuss the health districts’ pandemic guidance for schools, along with other COVID-19 information.

Meanwhile, Roanoke County School Board has called a special meeting for 1 p.m. on Thursday in order to “discuss, clarify and reconsider” the motion that was passed earlier this week to make student masks optional in classrooms if should Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin rolls back VDH’s current public health order.

In addition, several school districts around southwest and central Virginia have announced updates or reminders involving their coronavirus prevention guidelines:

Campbell County:

Charlotte County:

Danville:

Franklin County:

Halifax County:

Pulaski County:

Rockbridge County:

This is a developing story.