Roaring Fork school board discusses staff COVID testing, vaccines
Roaring Fork District school board members spent the majority of their Wednesday evening meeting discussing new COVID-19 protocols following the winter break, including a shorter quarantine period for teachers who receive a negative test.
Also covered during the discussion was the prospect for vaccines to be available for teachers, and an update on the district’s new distance learning set-up for schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.
The first school board meeting of the new year was also the first directed by newly appointed president of the board, Natalie Torres.
Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein provided updates on some of the protocol changes made during the holiday break, including a shorter quarantine period for teachers, students and staff who may have been exposed to the virus.
At the direction of public health officials, that period of time is now 10 days, instead of 14, for students, and for teachers could be as short as seven days.
“If staff want to come back after seven days they may get tested, and with confirmation of a reliable negative test they may return after seven days,” Stein said. “… What we’re trying to prioritize is maintaining in-person learning.”
Starting Tuesday, RFSD teachers and staff can opt in to a voluntary program to receive a rapid COVID test once a week. Thursday was the last day to sign up if employees would like to start testing as soon as next week.
The decision to provide rapid tests to staff only, instead of including students, is one that was heavily influenced by guidance from local public health authorities.
“That snapshot in time is not enough to guarantee you don’t have the disease, but it’s enough for many members of the community to be relaxing their behaviors. So, we don’t want to create this false sense of security that will undermine all the efforts we have been making …,” Stein said.
Since rapid testing has a 40% chance of false test results, it is important to not change one’s behavior after the fact. This means continuing to social distance, wash hands thoroughly and wear a mask, Stein added.
The district was offered the opportunity to partake in the trials of a new rapid test where the first month of testing would be free. However, Stein said the district would be charged an unknown amount after the first 30 days. That was cause for concern, he said.
“I think we’re going to watch and learn and we’re going to continue to see if we can put together a comprehensive plan, but it’s not going to be for Tuesday,” Stein said.
The logistics surrounding testing students — how to administer the test, where the collected data and biowaste would be sent and how to ensure everyone is actually swabbing themselves correctly (another major cause of false negative results) — still requires more discussion and decision-making on the district’s end.
On a more positive note, frontline educators were added to the end of phase 1 for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. However, it’s still expected to be several weeks before the vaccine is available locally for occupation-specific groups.
Stein said he considered all school staff to be essential, and that it was possible for non-frontline workers, such as bus mechanics, to be needed on the frontline and drive a bus route.
“We’ll see. there is a ray of hope and some sun on the horizon, so that’s exciting to hear,” Torres said. “It gives us all something to look forward to.”
Stein also gave an update on the four students whose symptoms caused Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale to cancel in-person learning for a day earlier this week. No similarities were found between the students, such as if they were in the same parts of the building or if any of them shared a class together. As of right now the cause of their illness is still unknown, although they were asked to be tested for COVID.
The primary reason for closing the school the following day was to do a deep disinfection and cleaning process. An environmental consultant will be coming to conduct a more thorough investigation, but Stein said the turnaround time for getting the consultant out to the school wouldn’t be a quick one.
“We had the fire department, we had other local consultants looking at our HVAC systems and our potential environmental hazards. We were suspicious there might be an air quality issue … unfortunately, we could not pinpoint the cause,” Stein said.
Board member Jasmin Ramirez inquired about meal distribution to students in need.
Chief Operating Officer Jeff Gatlin confirmed that the schedule was adjusted to Wednesdays and Fridays instead of Wednesdays and Saturdays. Prior to the winter break, the program was distributing about 7,000 meals a week. This past week, participation was lower than usual but Gatlin said it was likely caused by the schedule change.
“We did shift our meal pack distribution to Wednesdays and Fridays… that’s something that the food service team has been working hard to communicate,” Gatlin said.
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