MAT-SU — The Mat-Su Borough School District opened school just two weeks ago and has suffered brief closures for four different school buildings.
As of Wednesday, no new school closures due to positive cases of COVID-19 had been announced. Colony Middle School and Colony High School will remain closed until Tuesday, September 8. Pioneer Peak Elementary will reopen on Thursday and Machetanz Elementary was the first school to have an identified positive where two cases were identified on Aug. 27 and school was closed to in-person instruction for one day. Asked about Alaskan schools reopening, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said at his Tuesday COVID-19 press conference that he felt the state was doing “pretty good” as a whole.
“That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. This virus gets through a lot of our defense screens that we put up to try and stop it,” said Dunleavy. “Right now whenever you’re dealing with people in congregate settings, you run the risk of this virus being spread but so far we believe that what’s happening is working and we see school district’s adjusting where they see that they have clusters and they have cases.”
While the MSBSD opened with each school in the ‘yellow’ category, as schools have accumulated 14 days of data without a positive case, all MSBSD schools have gone into the ‘green’ low risk category, except for Machetanz, Pioneer Peak, CMS and CHS.
“We’ve had positive cases in these four schools. Our first was Machetanz and I would describe that one as a fairly straight forward case and then we had these three that all happened at the same time and they were very complicated,” said MSBSD Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani. “It’s more complicated doing contact tracing in secondary schools, so our partners in community health needed much more time so that’s why the shut down is longer particularly for Colony High School and Colony Middle School. What we can report right now is that It appears that in both instances there was no spread beyond the initial people who were infected and so that’s good.”
Trani reported that the Health Advisory Team holds an emergency meeting each time a new positive case within a school is announced. The HAT goes through a check list to evaluate when the person who tested positive was last in school, when they last experienced symptoms, when they were tested and the results of the test. The HAT then reviews video from the school to determine what rooms that person was in and all information is shared with community health partners. During public testimony at the MSBSD School Board meeting Wednesday, several members of the public stressed the importance of the health of teachers sharing a classroom environment where social distancing is not possible.
“People can get the disease and they can spread it to others but they may never get ill or be very mildly symptomatic. Other diseases are like this as well, polio 95 percent of people are completely asymptomatic with polio but yet we know it can cause significant long term effects,” said Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink on Tuesday. “The goal is to make sure that we’re not spreading it to those who are going to become more ill associated with it and to minimize the impacts of it and so tests can be a useful tool with that including those who are asymptomatic but were in close contact to others just to make sure that they don’t inadvertently spread it to others.”
Trani also reported that student counts were approximately 1,400 students under projections and provided an update on possible student days that actually occurred in the classroom. Trani showed a pie graph with 96.2 percent shown in blue as the student days that had been achieved, accounting for just the school building closures that have already occurred, but not accounting for the amount of students that have been sent home due to symptoms.
“Everything we can do to mitigate it and slow the spread is what we’re doing,” said Trani. “We’re trying to be really diligent. Our nurses are working very hard to identify any student with any symptom and the range of symptoms for covid is very large so we have students who are being excluded every day. We monitor that exclusion rate every day with our Health Action Team. All of these things we’re putting in place they’re in convenient, they’re annoying, but we think they give us the best chance to keep schools open for students who want to be in the brick and mortar schools.”