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Palmer High School closes due to COVID-19 case

Palmer High School, photographed Sept. 1, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN)

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Palmer High School will be closed on Tuesday due to a COVID-19 case in the school, according to Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District spokeswoman Jillian Morrissey.

The school will be closed for at least one day while public health workers conduct contact tracing, and the district will announce Tuesday evening how long the closure will last, Morrissey said. All school-related activities, including sports practices and games, are also called off, Morrissey said.

“At this time, we’ve closed the school just so that public health has an opportunity to do their contact tracing,” she said.

In the meantime, Palmer High School will move to online learning, according to the high school’s mitigation plan.

Morrissey said that she could not yet say whether the person with COVID-19 is a staff member or a student at the school.

There have been at least four other closures of school buildings in the district due to COVID-19 since the school year began in-person classes in August.

The district has also had two positive COVID-19 cases in elementary schools that did not require school closures because students attend school in small cohorts and contact tracing was straightforward, Morrissey said. But in a high school, the situation is more complicated, she said.

Students in the high school change classes three times a day, leading to more mixing of students and “adding a layer of complexity” to contact tracing, Morrissey said.

Other complicating factors can include school activities and bus transportation, she said.

A school nurse or public health worker will contact anyone in the school who is at risk of exposure after contact tracing, Morrissey said.

Previous closures include Machetanz Elementary and a cluster of cases that caused the simultaneous closure of Pioneer Peak Elementary, Colony High School and Colony Middle School, Morrissey said.

The district requires students in grades three through 12 to wear face masks and has implemented several other coronavirus mitigation strategies, including teaching young children in small cohorts for elementary school and reducing the number of high school classes a day.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough has had a total of 544 cases of COVID-19 among Alaska residents, with 343 cases still active. There have been 15 hospitalizations and two deaths in the borough, according to state data.

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