PALMER — All Mat-Su Borough School District buildings will be closed to in-class learning next week due to COVID-19 concerns.
“As you know the recent surge in COVID-19 cases has impacted our schools. Some schools have needed to be shut down more frequently and for longer time periods. These increases in infections have impacted families, staff and our partners in Public Health. As the virus has spread across the Valley, schools have needed to close because of a lack of staff and/or substitutes available to teach and care for students, as well as the ability of our partners in Public Health to complete contact tracing due to the increased volume of new cases,” MSBSD Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani said in an update that was emailed to district staff and Mat-Su families Thursday morning.
Trani said schools will transition to at-home learning Nov. 23-25, prior to the district’s Thanksgiving holiday break on Nov. 26-27, and reopen for in-class learning Nov. 30. The time will allow public health officials to complete contract tracing of current cases, school staff to update mitigation plans and currently impacted students and staff to complete their quarantines.
“We recognize that all school building closures are impactful to students and their families. We are taking this action in an effort to increase our abilities to keep schools open going into the future,”
Trani praised the efforts of district staff and district partners at public health during his report at the Mat-Su Borough School Board meeting Wednesday evening.
“I’m proud of what all of the staff have done to keep the doors open for kids,” Trani said. “Without our partnership with public health, our schools would not be open.”
The district reported six additional cases within Valley schools on Wednesday. There have been 197 total cases reported in the district during the past 14 days. Trani said 42 percent of the total coronavirus cases in the district have been reported during the last 10 days.
“Thats’s just the district. That’s not the borough,” Trani said.
Trani said the district’s mitigation protocol has proven its worth.
“Because of our mitigation strategies, because of the masks and the social distancing and our cohorting, when we get a case that comes into the school it only spreads minorly,” Trani said. “We mitigate. We remove kids from the classroom. We shut down the schools for blank days.”
Trani said district officials have also learned a lot about mitigation and educating students during a pandemic.
“We can no longer say there hasn’t been any spread. We can definitely say there hasn’t been any outbreaks in schools,” Trani said.
Trani said a significant concern is the stress on district staff and public health officials. The uptick in coronavirus numbers have created a rise in staff absences for those who have either been infected or are close contacts.
“We simply can’t operate if we don’t have staff,” Trani said.
Public health officials are also taxed with additional contact tracing.
“As cases around the community increase, public health has a capacity. There does become a point they can only work so fast,” Trani said.
Trani said those are two big factors when it comes to closing schools.
“If there are closures in the future, it’s because of those two things,” Trani said.
As of Wednesday evening, there are a half-dozen schools with short-term closures. Colony High, Meadow Lakes Elementary, Palmer High, Redington and American Charter Academy are closed through Friday. Beryozova will be closed through Nov. 30.
Six new cases were reported in the district Wednesday. There were positive cases at Mat-Su Career and Technical, Colony High, Machetanz Elementary, Snowshoe Elementary, Tanaina Elementary and the district warehouse.
There were 42 additional cases reported in the Mat-Su Borough Friday, pushing the cumulative total to 2,400. There have been 1,561 total cases reported in Wasilla, 658 in Palmer, 60 in Big Lake, 54 in Willow, 17 in Houston, 13 in Sutton, five in Meadow Lakes and one in Knik. There have also been 31 more cases listed as other.
The Mat-Su has a 10.21 percent seven-day positivity rate. The borough remains in the high alert level with a case rate of 33.0, and a total of 462 cases reported within the last 14 days.
Contact Frontiersman managing editor Jeremiah Bartz at email@example.com.