PALMER — Mat-Su Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani announced at the school board meeting on Wednesday that activities would be put on pause until at least Sunday with 94 positive cases of COVID-19 associated with MSBSD over the last two weeks.
“We’re accelerating dramatically or another way to put it since Sunday of 101 cases that have been reported in the Borough, 61 of them we know have occurred here,” said Trani. “It’s hundreds and hundreds of potential close contacts that they have to investigate.”
On Tuesday, the MSBSD posted to their website that five schools would be closed for the remainder of the week, the first long-term closure since Thanksgiving. Career Tech, Colony Middle, Colony High, Pioneer Peak Elementary and Wasilla High remain closed until Friday, while 10 schools reported positive cases on Wednesday. Trani reported that there have been 746 positive cases associated with the school district in 103 days of operation and that only 7.8 percent of cases were transmitted to others within school buildings. Since the last long-term building closure at the Thanksgiving break, 329 positive cases have been associated with schools and 179 have been infectious while in school.
“About 30 of the positive cases in the last week have been activities and they’re activities with no masks, so it’s not just athletics,” said Trani. “Since last week we’ve seen huge changes and I mean our phones have been exploding with the number of cases. It feels really similar to November.”
Trani noted that while the difficulty last fall that necessitated school closures was a lack of substitute staff to fill classrooms for quarantining teachers, contact tracers had hundreds of students to track down and Trani believed that the closures could assist in helping public health catch up with contact tracing.
Of the cases that have been associated with schools, only 7.8 percent were determined to have been transmitted at school. Trani said that 42 percent of positive cases were associated with maskless environments such as elementary school activities and high school sports. School Board member Ryan Ponder questioned the efficacy of masks if 58 percent of positive cases were not associated with activities. Trani noted that a significantly higher proportion of students participating in activities without masks had tested positive than those who had been wearing masks.
“We’re tracking it right now and it makes us wonder like is this at least partially our problem like have we shot ourselves in the foot,” said Trani.
School Board President Ole Larson questioned Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Reese Everett if mask technology had advanced to provide athletes with less restricting masks that still filtered the air they breath.
“There’s got to be something out there in order for us to maintain the vigorous activities and not spread covid or the option is close down activities which I don’t think any of us want to see at all,” said Larson.