Area schools navigate virus-related absences

·4 min read

Oct. 19—Local school districts continue to identify COVID-19 cases among students and staff, but administrators say mask-wearing has helped mitigate the spread of the virus.

There are currently seven active cases in the Moscow School District, including five students and two staff members who tested positive. Those individuals were sent home, according to Superintendent Greg Bailey on Monday.

"I think the mask-wearing is helping," Bailey said. "We've had some close contacts who've had to sit it out, but there's been no transmission."

Since the school year began Sept. 1, the district has surpassed 60 confirmed cases. During the last school year, the district recorded a total of 74 cases.

But those numbers don't come close to illustrating the impact COVID-19 has had on attendance.

Students who test positive for the virus are required to quarantine for at least 10 days, keeping them out of the classroom for weeks when virtual learning at most schools is not an option as it was last school year. Those determined to be a close contact of someone who tested positive are also sent home to isolate, at least until they receive negative test results.

For the week ending Oct. 14, the Moscow School District reported 107 virus-related absences, according to the most recent metrics on its website. The first week of school, there were 27 absences related to the virus. That number increased quickly and peaked at 133 mid-September.

Bailey says COVID-19 has also kept teachers out of the classroom, worsening a substitute teacher shortage in the school district.

"We are looking to get more substitutes for staff because of people getting sick and staying home," he said. "We're providing financial incentives."

Attendance at the Pullman School District has fluctuated slightly from week to week, according to Superintendent Robert Maxwell.

The school district reported six new cases of COVID-19 in its most recent counts, including three individuals at Lincoln Middle School and three at Pullman High School. There were also five close contacts in quarantine for the week ending Oct. 15.

For the week ending Sept. 30, the school district tallied six confirmed cases and 19 close contacts in quarantine.

"We've been able to keep those numbers low and I think it reflects our safety protocols and community vaccination rate working together," Maxwell said. "It's enabled us to stay open and in person."

Health and safety guidelines at the school include mask wearing, social distancing and hand-washing, among others. He says school staff have also been hard at work cleaning classrooms and high-contact locations.

In Moscow schools, greater testing capabilities has allowed staff to work through close contacts much faster. Bailey says Public Health-Idaho North Central District is supplying the school district with saliva-based PCR tests which typically return results in just a few days.

"We appreciate the parents who've been helpful throughout the pandemic," he said. "It's been tough and we look forward to the day we can have this in our rearview mirror."

At the Colton School District, there have been just a few cases of COVID-19 in the last month. In a recent newsletter, Superintendent Paul Clark said the school district is closely following mitigation strategies from the department of health.

"If your child has been sent home with any of the COVID-19 symptoms, we are sorry for the inconvenience," Clark stated in the newsletter. "In most of these cases, our students have tested negative for COVID-19 and have returned quickly."

Over the weekend and on Monday, there were 68 new cases of COVID-19 reported on the Palouse. No new deaths were reported in the Whitman or Latah Counties, however there have been eight deaths related to the virus in the past week.

Whitman County added 40 confirmed cases and two hospitalizations for a total of 5,747 cases, 208 hospitalizations and 68 deaths since the pandemic began.

Public Health — Idaho North Central District reported 28 new cases in Latah County on Monday. The latest cases include six people younger than age 18, six people between ages 18-29, four people in their 30s, four people in their 40s, one person in their 50s, four people in their 60s, two people in their 70s and one person in their 90s.

There have been 4,105 confirmed cases, 266 probable cases and 31 deaths in Latah County since the start of the pandemic.

Palermo can be reached at apalermo@dnews.com or on Twitter @apalermotweets.

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