The number of Watertown School District students and staff with COVID-19 continues to be a concern.
So much so that mask mandates are again being implemented for teachers and staff at some schools in town.
Tuesday, 32 students and staff were out sick with COVID-19 at the high school, 22 at the middle school, 14 at the intermediate school, 15 at Jefferson Elementary and 11 from Mellette Elementary. The remaining schools have current COVID-19 numbers of 10 or less.
“We have been looking at percentages, and because of this, three different schools are back to the mask language and barriers that we used last year to try and get those numbers back down,” said Superintendent Jeff Danielson.
Mask mandates are being implemented in Jefferson and McKinley elementary schools and Watertown Middle School until Feb. 4. They might be prolonged if numbers do not decrease. All staff must wear masks, and students are expected to wear them at these three schools. Barriers are also being used.
The mask mandate is not in place at the high school as the percentage of students and staff with the virus is not high enough to require it. There are roughly 1,300 students and staff at the high school.
The federal CDC recently rolled back the days required to quarantine for individuals who test positive for COVID-19 from 10 days to five. Danielson said that most quarantined individuals have returned after five days with no symptoms.
However, the high case numbers and the regular onslaught of wintertime illnesses like the flu have strained the district’s ability to keep classrooms staffed. On Tuesday, eight staffers were out with COVID-19, which did not include teachers out with other illnesses.
“If there are people who want to help substitute, we will take them,” said Danielson. “Our principals have been doing a good job all year having coverage when we need it, but we are piecing it together right now.”
Danielson stressed the importance of keeping students in the classroom, but if the preventive measures of masking, barriers and increased sanitation do not help curb the rising COVID-19 numbers in the district, it might be forced to switch to online schooling temporarily.
“That would be our last-ditch effort,” said Danielson. “We’ve been able to see that as students return to the classroom, they are learning better in person. We are trying to do everything possible to keep schools open so parents can continue to go to work and the majority of kids can be educated in the best way for them. The longer we can keep everyone in school, the better.”
This article originally appeared on Watertown Public Opinion: School district sees rising COVID cases, mask mandate returns