Three new COVID-19 exposures or potential exposures have led to the full closure of Needham Elementary School and new quarantines for students and staff members at Durango High School and Park Elementary.
9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger said the district is trying to accurately monitor the COVID-19 situation at all schools, which has picked up as transmissions throughout the county have spiked in recent weeks.
“I would be remiss not to say that I’m deeply concerned,” he said. “We are seeing instruction – in-person – in school at risk. And so we’re trying to monitor accurately. We don’t want to overreact, but at the same time, we have to be careful and take precautions,” he said.
On Thursday, 9-R was notified by San Juan Basin Public Health of a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 among a staff members at Needham Elementary.
The majority of 56 staff members were exposed, including all 40 teachers and administrators at the school, but no students were exposed.
The exposure to the staff members will require all teachers to quarantine and offer remote learning. That is what led to the closure of the school.
While the exposure incident at Needham did not involve any students, they will be affected by going to remote learning as all their teachers will be quarantined until Nov. 16.
Julie Popp, 9-R spokeswoman, said in a communication to families, “Because it is impossible to assess all interactions in the school and because of the length of time which classes spend together, all school staff members are considered close contacts. While your child does not need to quarantine during this time, remote learning will continue through the quarantine period.”
At Park Elementary, an individual has tested positive for COVID-19, and quarantines for 22 students and two staff members began Thursday and will end Nov. 19, Popp said.
Durango School District 9-R was notified of the latest exposure that will lead to quarantines for 43 DHS students on Wednesday by San Juan Basin Public Health.
In this case, the exposure affected only students, not any DHS staff members.
SJBPH informed the district the individual who is now exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms at DHS had been in contact with a symptomatic individual who was presumed positive for the virus.
The incident at DHS was isolated to two cohorts as of Thursday, and those cohorts moved to 9-R’s remote learning platform Thursday as further investigation takes place into the potential exposure.
The length of the quarantines will be determined based on testing of the person suspected of carrying the SARS CoV-2 virus that leads to COVID-19, Popp said.
No DHS staff members were affected by the exposure and no other 9-R schools or cohorts were affected by the incident at DHS.
Liane Jollon, executive director San Juan Basin Public Health, said increased transmissions of COVID-19 are occurring in the backdrop of increased county transmissions communitywide, but she said the problem is not as severe here as it is on the Front Range.
While La Plata County is not experiencing the same transmission rate surge as seen on the Front Range, Jollon cautioned the local situation is a growing concern.
“We’re not where the rest of the state is, but we’re on that trajectory, and we are probably two weeks behind the rest of the state,” she said.
School districts throughout La Plata and Archuleta counties have done a good job of minimizing transmissions, she said.
“The precautions schools are taking have worked really well. We’re really proud of the school systems,” she said. “We’re proud of all of the families that are following the precautions in the school setting. And the schools are working really hard to make adjustments to slow spread.”
Whatever precautions are taken at schools, districts will have a more difficult time containing transmissions as the spread in the community increases – something that’s happened as the weather becomes colder and more social gatherings move indoors, Jollon said.
“I think it’s really important to have a community understanding that the actions we choose as community members, as individuals, will help the schools. That would be my most important message,” she said.
email@example.comAn earlier version of this story included a photo caption that incorrectly reported Needham Elementary experienced a COVID-19 “outbreak.” The situation is not classified as an outbreak.