Kodiak Island School District staff have updated protocols for how schools will handle COVID-19 outbreaks.
Plans have gone out to parents during the past several weeks, and “green,” “yellow” and “red” — in reference to different alert levels — have long since entered the local lexicon. The broad strokes remain the same, but several tweaks have been made.
One change is that testing of students and staff will be required to return to in-person school in several scenarios. If the district is in the green level, a student or staff member must get tested if they have COVID-19 symptoms and a member of their household has traveled off-island. Also in green, students and staff must get tested if they travel outside Alaska, per the state’s health mandate.
In yellow, students and staff must get tested if they show symptoms of COVID-19.
If anyone doesn’t want to get tested, they must stay home for 14 days. Students with chronic conditions that can cause symptoms that are similar to COVID-19 can set up a plan with their doctor that says they can attend school with those symptoms.
Testing access is also being expanded for students. School nurses can arrange testing at Kodiak Area Native Association’s Mill Bay Health Center, which offers more hours than the drive-through testing site. When the results come back, and if parents sign an information release form, KANA nurses can call school nurses and let them know the result. Tests from the school will be prioritized.
“The results could potentially be called to the school nurse in 30 minutes,” North Star Elementary school nurse Michelle Odlin said.
Nurses will handle the interchange with KANA so as not to overwhelm the clinic’s capacity. But having expansive, rapid testing for students will help keep kids in school. If a student has symptoms, they can be back in school once they get a negative test and symptoms are gone, rather than waiting for 10 days as the original state guidelines suggested.
“I don’t know where else this is happening in the state of Alaska,” said Larry LeDoux, superintendent of the school district.
“This system is just incredible because we can get our kids back into school and know they are COVID free as soon as their symptoms are gone.”
Should small numbers of positive cases pop up, individual schools, rather than the whole district, will be closed. Some will be in-person, some will be online. Even inside individual schools, some classrooms could be online and others in-person.
In August, the district released guidelines for what schools will do if one or two cases appear in their building.
If there is one confirmed case in the school, the classroom the student or staff occupied will be closed for 14 days and will transition to online learning, and close contacts will quarantine. Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of someone diagnosed with COVID-19 for 15 minutes or longer during their contagious period as specified by public health.
The same goes for two cases in the same classroom. The big change in the guidelines is that in the previous two scenarios, the entire school will close for 24 hours. If a case gets confirmed on a Monday, the building will close at 5 p.m. and won’t reopen until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, during which cleaning crews will sanitize everything. The time will allow public health to conduct contact-tracing investigations.
“It’s not something that can be identified within hours,” Odlin said.
The change came after watching how the Mat-Su School District, which also opened in-person, dealt with positive cases.
Other scenarios for positive cases remain the same. If there are two cases in the same school that are somehow linked, the school building will close until a contact-tracing investigation can happen. The two classrooms will be online for 14 days, regardless. Close contacts will quarantine.
If there are two cases that cannot be linked, the entire building closes for 14 days and a contact-tracing investigation will begin.