PALMER — Mat-Su Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani zoomed into the Mat-Su Borough’s press conference on Thursday just after announcing that MSBSD schools would experience a short-term closure.
“You can really feel that exponential growth happening in our community,” said Trani. “We’re trying to be strategic. By doing these short-term building closures across the entire district we hope to be able to keep schools open longer.”
Valley schools will be closed to in-class learning Nov. 23-25, and the plan is to reopen Nov. 30, following the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
On Thursday, Trani proudly announced that MSBSD schools had delivered 63 school days of instruction. Trani both began and ended his comments by thanking parents and staff who have had to deal with changes surrounding COVID-19 mitigation and protocols.
“It’s just not ideal,” said Trani. “As cases have surged in the Valley over the last few weeks, staff have just been heroic in their ability to change what they normally would do. We have teachers who can have half of their class at home and half of their class in school and so they’re basically teaching two different platforms so I just really want to thank those people,” said Trani. “
Since the start of the school year in August, more than two-thirds of all MSBSD students have attended classes in person and Trani said that a steady drip of students have returned from at-home learning to take classes inside the school buildings themselves. Trani stressed the importance of contact tracers and praised public health officials and the Department of Health and Social Services for their diligent work in contact tracing.
“Another super important thing that we can see from looking at our data is that masks work and when you couple masks and social distancing it really works. When we have had clusters of spread in the school district it has been in situations where masks were not worn and so a huge majority in fact maybe every instance of that has been when we had athletic events where people weren’t wearing their masks,” said Trani.
There have been 190 cases of COVID-19 identified within people inside of MSBSD school communities, and 42 percent of all school district cases have occurred in the last 10 days. Trani said that school nurses will be trained as contact tracers to help assist DHSS in tracking down close contacts of school cases over the short term building closure. While positive cases have been reported in MSBSD schools since the first week buildings open to students, Trani said that community health members praised their contact tracing efforts as one of the most robust data sets on the west coast for schools. Approximately 35 cases remain unidentified.
“We don’t have evidence of outbreaks in school environments where mask wearing is occurring. We have lots of evidence of cases coming into the buildings and then when we find out about them, we do that initial separation of that room or sometimes the whole school from everybody else so we can do the contact tracing and that seems to stop any spread within the buildings. There’s also emerging evidence the schools are not contributing dramatically to community spread,” said Trani. “We may actually be mitigating the spread in the Valley. With that being said, what also is true is that the spread in the community does impact the schools and we’re seeing that right now. As more and more people are contracting the virus or being identified as close contacts in the Valley it’s becoming more and more difficult for us to keep schools open. For instance over the last two weeks we’ve averaged about 330 employees a day out sick. That’s a large number. Today marked our largest day with nearly 60 sub jobs unfilled.”