Even though students aren’t back in classrooms yet, there have been 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the Anchorage School District began tracking cases among district employees and students this month. Four high school athletic teams are currently under quarantine.
Six cases involved staff members and five involved student-athletes, said Lisa Miller, a spokeswoman with the district. One athletic team at Dimond High, two at West High and one at Service High are quarantining.
Of the people involved in the 11 cases, six were at one point on school district grounds or at a district event. To the district’s knowledge so far, those individuals have not spread the virus to others within the school district, according to Miller.
The district released its case counts Friday in response to a public information request. It began officially tracking cases in September, according to Miller. The district had known of cases involving staff and students since March, but now it has a better process for keeping track, she said.
Classes have been online only for the district since school began Aug. 20, although many teachers and staff still go to work in school buildings. The district’s sports teams resumed games and events on Sept. 10, which had been canceled since March due to the pandemic, although limited practices resumed in late summer.
Of the six people who tested positive and had been on school district grounds or at school events:
• Two were staff members at Muldoon Elementary School, one was a staff member at North Star Elementary School and one was a staff member at South High School.
• One was a student-athlete at West High. The West High School football C team is currently quarantining, according to head coach Tim Davis. “We do not believe it was transmitted within the C team itself,” Davis said.
• One was a student-athlete at Dimond High. On Sept. 20, a member of the Dimond High School volleyball C team tested positive for COVID-19, and team members and coaches are quarantining as of the day of their last contact with that person, Miller said. Because the volleyball team had recently played the West and Service High School C teams, those teams are quarantining as well out of “an abundance of caution," Miller said in a statement.
“At the recommendation of the Anchorage Health Department, all teams are encouraged to get a COVID-19 test three to five days after the last known contact,” she said. “ASD is working closely with the Anchorage Health Department contact tracing teams to identify any additional activity-related contacts that may have occurred.”
The rest of the Anchorage School District’s COVID-19 cases this month include:
• A student-athlete at South High School who tested positive Friday. Two people in the district who had close contact with the athlete have been identified so far and contact tracing is still underway, Miller said. It is not yet clear if any additional teams will quarantine due to that case, she said.
• Two other student-athletes at South High who previously tested positive for COVID-19. Their cases are unrelated to the South High staff member who tested positive, according to Miller. The athletes had been quarantining since Sept. 10 after having contact with someone outside the school district who tested positive, and later tested positive themselves. Another student-athlete tested negative after close contact with the two athletes and is quarantining until Oct 6. No teams at South will quarantine due to those two cases because contact tracing found no additional close contacts, Miller said.
• A staff member at Wendler Middle School and a staff member at the Anchorage School District Education Center who had not visited school grounds or attended school events while their cases were active.
The district has ramped up contact tracing and recently began using a COVID-19 incident report form that principals and school nurses submit for each suspected or confirmed case, Miller said. The report tracks the date, time, location and whether the individual is staff or a student. The new process allows the district to better track all active and resolved cases, she said.
The district is doing some of its own contact tracing and is working with the Anchorage Health Department, she said.
Performing contact tracing for students can be tricky, according to health experts.
“At the moment, it’s very hit or miss what we hear about on these kids that are school-aged — where they’re out and about and where they might have acquired the virus,” said Dr. Bruce Chandler, medical officer for disease control and prevention at the Anchorage Health Department, during a Friday community briefing.
School district administrators released a tentative plan last week to return students to classrooms in phases, beginning with elementary school and high needs students in October, middle school in November and high school in January.
“We understand that COVID is among us in our community,” Superintendent Deena Bishop told the school board at a meeting Tuesday. “Our work is around mitigating that risk and understanding the risk levels of young children."
But that new plan is subject to change and will take into account shifts in research, as well as changes in case counts and COVID-19 data in the community, Bishop has said.
Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on Friday said that the school district’s plan is contingent on a “safe operating environment.”
“We need to be in a safe place before we can really and truly open up, and that requires the entire community to work incredibly diligently over the next few weeks to bring the case counts substantially lower,” Berkowitz said.
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