Return to ‘routine’ on COVID control front as Roaring Fork Schools return to class
Back to school for the Roaring Fork Schools on Wednesday will look a lot different than the start of school last year when it comes to keeping the spread of COVID-19 in check.
District schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt began the 2021-22 school year with a mask requirement for students and staff, and regular classroom quarantine protocols whenever there was a possible exposure to a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Those requirements eased as the school year progressed and case numbers dropped after a December holiday spike, and by the end of the school year things were pretty much back to pre-pandemic normal.
As classes begin Wednesday, the district will be employing a “routine disease control” strategy, following the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“We continue to follow the guidance from CDPHE and our county public health departments to inform our response to COVID,” said Anna Cole, chief of student and family services for the district.
Noting that the state has shifted to a routine disease control strategy, she said the district is following suit.
“While COVID is certainly not over, we are glad to be able to remove these added responsibilities from our teachers’ and school leaders’ plates,” Cole said.
The district’s strategy was spelled out in its 2022-23 COVID Health and Safety Plan that was sent to families and posted to the district website on Friday.
Gone are universal mask requirements and the routine of keeping classrooms or cohorts of students out of school buildings for periods of time due to possible exposure.
Disease transmission in the schools and especially any confirmed outbreaks are still very much a concern, though, the policy states.
“In alignment with the latest school guidance from CDPHE and our county public health departments, our approach to keeping students, staff, and families safe is through a routine disease control strategy,” the plan states.
While the district will monitor and respond to any clusters of cases, outbreaks and ongoing transmission in schools, it will no longer do case investigation and contact tracing or use group quarantines to prevent disease spread.
Still, students or staff who test positive for COVID-19 are asked to isolate and stay home for five full days, the plan states.
“In the event of an outbreak, we will work with local public health to identify any disease mitigation strategies deemed necessary,” the district plan states. “These may include classroom cohorting, symptom monitoring, universal masking, and/or testing.”
The district also recommends anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 wear a mask when returning to school or being around other people for six to 10 days after isolation. That’s in alignment with the updated CDC isolation and quarantine guidance (espanol), according to the district plan.
In addition, the district continues to strongly encourage all staff and students to stay up to date with vaccinations, and to stay home when experiencing symptoms of illness, including those not related to COVID-19.
Recently, Garfield County Public Health also backed away from its regular COVID-19 data reporting, deferring instead to the CDC and CDPHE, which also track county-level case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths.
“Currently, we are at a low community spread level,” Garfield County Public Health Director Josh Williams said in his monthly report to the county commissioners Monday.
Instead of tracking case numbers and test positivity rates, which are less informative due to the general lack of reporting of positive results from home testing, public health officials are focusing on hospitalizations as a primary metric, Williams said.
“It is still present … and we have had some hospitalizations recently,” he said, adding the county had one death due to COVID-19 in the past month.
According to the CDC’s latest tracking, Garfield County hospitals reported 1.9% of their staffed inpatient beds in use by patients with confirmed COVID-19.
County health officials continue to be available to provide guidance to schools as the new year begins, Williams said.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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