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2 more coronavirus infections identified in Mat-Su schools as dozens asked to quarantine

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PALMER — Mat-Su school officials have now reported 14 coronavirus infections in 11 schools after two more cases were confirmed Thursday, including one at a middle school with a prior confirmed case.

Schools in Mat-Su, the state’s largest district to start the year with classroom learning, have experienced a string of brief closures due to coronavirus cases since August, but officials say they have yet to detect any student-to-student spread from those cases.

Once cases are confirmed, public health workers identify close contacts — people who have come within 6 feet of the people who tested positive, for a total of 15 minutes or more — and ask them to quarantine for 14 days, with testing recommended between 7 and 14 days. Family members don’t have to quarantine.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many students and teachers have quarantined since school started in late August. But about 70 people have been asked to quarantine after being identified as close contacts of just two cases reported Tuesday alone, public health officials say: about 20 at Cottonwood Creek Elementary and about 50 at Wasilla Middle School.

The district and state health officials are involved in “a really fine balance” of offering in-person learning and taking steps to mitigate the risks of infection, said Mat-Su public health nurse Rene Dillow.

“It’s inconvenient to a lot of people but actually the families have been very positive and receptive for the most part, and really are just happy the schools can stay open," Dillow said.

A new case was reported Thursday at Wasilla Middle School but there is no evidence linking it with a case confirmed Tuesday, according to Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District spokeswoman Jillian Morrissey.

The school dismissed students early Thursday and will be closed Friday, a scheduled at-home learning day under the district’s COVID-19 plans. The district will update parents Friday afternoon about the status of in-school learning next week, Morrissey said. About 650 students attend Wasilla Middle School.

Another new case was confirmed Wednesday afternoon at Iditarod Elementary School in Wasilla, but the school stayed open after public health workers located all the close contacts of the person who tested positive, Morrissey said. Close contacts are asked to quarantine and monitor for symptoms.

State officials this week announced the first student-to-student spread of the coronavirus but declined to identify the school or district involved.

As of last Friday, the Anchorage School District was reporting 11 cases, six among staff and five among student athletes, as well as numerous sports-associated quarantines.

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