Kodiak schools will switch to remote learning starting Friday because of the increase in COVID-19 cases on the island, the Kodiak Island Borough School District announced today.
Remote learning for schools in town, as well as for Chiniak School, will last until Jan. 11. Other rural schools will retain their existing programs.
In the district’s announcement, Superintendent Larry LeDoux said the decision was made to switch to remote learning because of increasing positive COVID-19 cases in multiple schools, instructional instability due to frequent opening and closing of schools, and the district’s inability to provide adequate staffing through substitutes.
“We know that remote learning is not the preferred choice of delivery,” he said. “We hope that with swift action we can help to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Kodiak, while continuing to provide a high-quality education to our students.”
LeDoux said in an interview that the spiking cases meant the district's intermediate level, which would blend in-person and online instruction, wasn't an option.
"Yellow is really designed to reduce close contacts, to spread out kids, but the incredible growth in the infections in Kodiak and around the state have well bypassed yellow," he said. "The level of community spread has increased so fast in Kodiak that implementing yellow really wouldn't work at this point."
He said that infections haven't been spread inside schools, as far as anyone knows. But with roughly 2,800 people in Kodiak tied to schools, most outbreaks touched schools in some way.
"We haven't had any cases of student-to-student or teacher-to-teacher or teacher-to-student spread. Our problem has been infections coming from the community into the school," he said.
Lack of teachers played a role in the decision too.
"So many people have to stay home because we have to treat every symptom like a positive case," LeDoux said. "Normally if you're a teacher and you get up and you have a headache, you still go to school. Now you don't."
Also today, Emergency Services Director Mike Tvenge announced that masks or face coverings are now required in public spaces in Kodiak.
“Because of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, the Emergency Services Council is now mandating, effective immediately, the wearing of masks or face coverings when in any public setting, such as grocery stores, any retail stores, including restaurants and bars,” Tvenge said during a live update from the ESC.
There are now 51 active cases of COVID-19 on Kodiak after the Kodiak Emergency Services Organization announced nine new cases on Thursday.
All nine are classified as community spread. Since the start of the pandemic earlier this year, 201 people have tested positive for the virus.
“I asked you last Thursday to do your best as a community to slow this down. But it wasn’t enough, and we are now seeing the unfortunate results of what non-mask wearing, disregard for social distancing and lack of quarantine has caused,” Tvenge said.
“I just cannot stand back and ignore what could seriously cripple our community.”
The rise of cases, particularly from community spread, was the key factor in the ESC’s determination.
“The community mitigation plan shows us bordering on the red risk level. We could easily go to red status now, but we wanted to give this community an opportunity to bring this back to yellow and eventually green status,” Tvenge said.
“If this does not slow down the rapid rise of community cases, then we will be forced to move into the full red status. Red status allows for only essential services and critical infrastructure to operate, including limiting patron capacity. … Total lockdowns are what we’re trying to avoid.”
He said the ESC would release more details about the mask rules on Friday. He added that the ESC is also investigating what they can do about restricting travel.
In a health order released earlier this week, Gov. Mike Dunleavy reiterated that local communities have this power, as long as they do not disrupt the movement of critical workers.
New positive cases also prompted the Kodiak Island Borough School District to close East Elementary on Thursday until further notice.
It also closed Main Elementary and Peterson Elementary on Thursday. Both will resume school in-person on Friday.
Kodiak High School was closed on Wednesday but came back for in-person school on Thursday.
Ouzinkie School remains closed until further notice, after a positive case in the community.
On Thursday, the Department of Health and Social Services announced 505 new people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Alaska. One new death was also reported.