After a flurry of schools closed amid COVID-19 outbreaks, Douglas County Schools interim Superintendent Corey Wise had a message for the community last week.
“In-person learning is here to …
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“In-person learning is here to stay,” read an April 9 letter from Wise.
The district does not have plans to move all students back to remote education, contrary to “some misinformation that I’ve been hearing,” he said. The district is also planning for events like graduation and prom, according to the letter.
“We are disappointed but will persevere and we look forward to having the students in those affected schools back in two weeks,” Wise wrote.
Between April 6 and 9, the Tri-County Health Department instructed five middle and high schools to go remote for two weeks after confirming at least five outbreaks in each of the buildings.
The most recent closure came April 12 when the health department instructed ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch to go remote for two weeks beginning April 13, also after five outbreaks occurred at the school, a district spokeswoman said.
Guidelines set out by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment require a school close temporarily if five or more outbreaks occur within a two-week timeframe.
Schools can also be shuttered if 5% or more of students and staff test positive for COVID-19.
In a separate April 9 letter, Wise urged families to sign their children ages 16 and older up for a COVID-19 vaccine.
“The fastest way for us to circumvent future health department directed school closures (at the high school level) is for students (ages 16+) to begin accessing COVID vaccinations,” he said.
All Coloradoans 16 and up became eligible for vaccines on April 2 — the Pfizer vaccine is approved for people 16 and older, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for people 18 and older.
Wise also asked families to keep children home if they show signs of illness and not return them to school until students have been symptom free for 48 hours. The superintendent warned against confusing mild COVID-19 symptoms with other ailments.
“We are seeing very mild COVID symptoms in most students who test positive,” Wise's letter said.
The initial closures came roughly two weeks after the district launched full, in-person learning at middle and high schools for the first time in a year. Elementary schools have conducted full in-person learning since Jan. 5.
Secondary schools' return to in-person learning immediately followed the district’s spring break, and since February, Douglas County’s incidence rates have been slowly rising, including among people ages 5 to 18.
Tri-County Health epidemiologist and director of the agency’s COVID-19 Disease Control Branch Jennifer Chase said numerous factors are likely leading to a rise in local cases, including the gradual reopening of the community and pandemic fatigue, but that in-person learning is probably contributing.
Tri-County Health highly suspected the new strain called B.1.1.7 first identified in the U.K. was circulating in Douglas County Schools and contributing to outbreaks. Chase said the variant is more transmissible and recent research shows its spreads easier among youth.
Both Chase and Wise said that week the district is seeing spread among students. Previously, district leaders said most COVID-19 cases originated in the community.
As schools sent students back home, Chase urged the community to remain vigilant and continue following social distancing guidance.
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