After a flurry of schools closed amid COVID-19 outbreaks, Douglas County Schools interim Superintendent Corey Wise had a message for the community recently. “In-person learning is here to stay,” …
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After a flurry of schools closed amid COVID-19 outbreaks, Douglas County Schools interim Superintendent Corey Wise had a message for the community recently.
“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.
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.
Guidelines set out by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment require a school to 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.
“We are disappointed but will persevere and we look forward to having the students in those affected schools back in two weeks,” Wise wrote.
The district is also moving forward with plans for events like graduation and prom.
In a separate April 9 letter, Wise urged families to sign up their children ages 16 and older 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 Coloradans age 16 and older became eligible for vaccines on April 2. The Pfizer vaccine is approved for people 16 and older. 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,” the letter said.
The 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, a major milestone that came immediately after the district’s spring break. Elementary schools have conducted full in-person learning since Jan. 5.
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 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 it spreads easier among youth.
Both Chase and Wise said that week the district is seeing spread among students. Previously, district leaders had 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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