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4 schools in Seward area to close starting Friday due to COVID-19

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A new COVID-19 case identified in a Seward school, combined with rising case numbers in the community, has prompted the closure of several schools around Seward starting Friday while two more cases were confirmed at two Mat-Su elementary schools.

Effective Friday morning, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will close the four schools in its Eastern Peninsula region, which includes Seward and Moose Pass, spokeswoman Pegge Erkeneff said Thursday night. Erkeneff was unable to specify whether the new case involved a student or staff member at a Seward school.

The growth in the number of cases in the Seward area is bumping the schools over the high-risk threshold, she said.

The district had announced the possibility of a closure earlier Thursday to give families time to prepare, Erkeneff said. At that time, she said that if schools close, the closure would last for at least a week so students and families don’t “ping-pong back and forth."

Since opening for the school year, the Kenai Peninsula district had seen seven positive cases among staff and four positive cases among students, Erkeneff said earlier Thursday. Homer High School’s football program, involving a total of 40 people, is currently under a 14-day quarantine, she said.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is broken up into three areas — Eastern, Southern and Central — and began the year with 19 Central schools online-only, but two weeks later, cases in the region dropped and classes resumed in-person. A case at Seward Elementary School temporarily closed the school in September.

The number of cases in the state has risen over the last few weeks, and on Thursday the state reported its 15th consecutive day of more than 100 new cases. An elementary school in Fairbanks this week also announced a temporary closure after confirming five positive COVID-19 cases in a two-week span.

In Mat-Su, Swanson Elementary School and Sherrod Elementary School in Palmer dismissed students early Thursday after they were notified of a positive case in each school, said Jillian Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District. The cases involve two individuals from the same family, she said.

Morrissey said that contact tracing is ongoing at both schools, though as of Thursday evening, Morrissey was unsure if the schools would be closed Friday.

Several schools in the Mat-Su Borough have closed temporarily due to virus cases with dozens of people in quarantine over the last several weeks, though building closures have been brief.

The Mat-Su school district has now seen a total of 18 cases of COVID-19 so far this school year, with 17 cases at 13 schools and one case in an administrative building, Morrissey said.

Colony High School in Palmer also closed temporarily this week after a case of COVID-19 was identified in the school.

A Mat-Su health official said that there is no evidence of student-to-student spread at this point.

A case of student-to-student transmission of the virus in an Alaska school has occurred, state health officials recently announced. They declined to identify which school or district was involved.

Dr. Liz Ohlsen, a staff physician at the state’s Division of Public Health, said “it is a testament to how well school districts have done in implementing mitigation efforts" because school districts had already been open for more than a month.

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