Amid increasing COVID-19 transmission rates countywide, Durango School District 9-R has begun to examine ways to slow the spread of the virus in schools, and that might mean temporarily ending the option for five-day-a-week in-person learning.
9-R’s struggles with increasing transmission rates parallel similar problems throughout La Plata County.
On Monday, San Juan Basin Public Health reported 607 La Plata County residents have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, an increase of 35 from Sunday.
Also on Monday afternoon, the Durango Police Department tweeted that more people were in line at SJBPH’s free testing site in the overflow parking lot at the Durango Public Library than staff members were able to handle. Officers suggested people return Tuesday for testing.
Claire Ninde, SJBPH spokeswoman, said the library testing site completed 165 tests on Monday and 172 on Saturday, when the site stayed open for an extra hour. Results from the tests are expected to be returned in three to five days.
The health department offers free testing to anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms at the library overflow lot, at East Third Avenue and 20th Street, from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday and Saturday.
Fort Lewis College also moved from classroom instruction to online learning Monday in an effort to slow transmission rates.
We are shifting classroom instruction and many of our campus services online to decrease density. Virtual instruction will begin tomorrow, Mon, Nov. 9. #FLCCovidInfo #FLCTogether https://t.co/NjeUaEWx7N— Fort Lewis College (@FLCDurango) November 8, 2020
The SJBPH covid-19 testing site near the Durango Public Library already has more people waiting in line than the staff can handle today. Please try again tomorrow! We will provide updates as needed regarding location or traffic flow issues. Thank you for your patience!— Durango Police (@DurangoPolice) November 9, 2020
Also Monday, SJBPH notified 9-R of the latest confirmed positive cases; a staff member at Needham Elementary School and a staff member at Durango High School both tested positive for the virus.
The Needham exposure will mean one cohort at the school will go into a 14-day quarantine. Cohorts affected at DHS were already in remote learning because of the suspected incident, and now they will have to quarantine, said Julie Popp, 9-R spokeswoman.
Cohorts are groups of students who stay together throughout the school day to minimize personal interactions among students at schools in an effort to reduce risk of spreading COVID-19.
9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger said it is important to provide in-school learning, but the increasing spread of the virus in schools might require a temporary increase in the use of remote learning.
“My goal is to whatever degree possible preserve in-person learning,” he said. “The research shows a whole host of adverse factors develop when you are not able to provide in-person learning.”
9-R administrators met with principals Monday, and on Tuesday, they were set to meet with the district’s Return-to-Learn Task Force to go over options to deal with rising positive COVID-19 cases in the district.
A temporary suspension of full five-day-a-week in-person learning and moving those students to a blended learning model with three days of remote learning and two days of in-person learning is under consideration.
Popp said since Nov. 1, 11 cohorts totaling 223 students – about 10% of all students – have been placed in quarantine.
All but one cohort of students at Needham are not under quarantine. Instead, they have been moved to remote learning at home because all the teachers are in quarantine and teaching from home after they were exposed to a COVID-19 positive person during a professional development day.
On Friday evening, 9-R was notified by SJBPH of the need to quarantine one cohort of 11 students at Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary School.
The cohort was exposed to someone who tested positive, and quarantines will extend to Nov. 20 for school activities and Dec. 1 for school, because of the Thanksgiving Day holiday.
“We have seen significant impacts to schools and almost a dozen cohorts are impacted,” Snowberger said. “It has increased stress on staff. It has put a premium on substitutes and proved difficult to contain. Unfortunately, some more extreme measures will have to be examined if we can’t get a handle on increasing transmission rates.”
The Montezuma-Cortez School District announced Monday afternoon it will transition its in-person students to online learning beginning Thursday.
Ninde said the drastic rise in transmission rates in the county means it might be impossible for some individuals to identify where and when they were exposed.
Recently, COVID-19 case investigations have identified suspected transmission sites at Halloween parties, election night gatherings and workplaces, bars and restaurants where physical distancing recommendations are only loosely followed, she said.
Over the last seven days, COVID-19 cases have risen in La Plata County by 174 individuals.