Dear ACSD#1 Families:

COVID-19 cases in Albany County have increased significantly during the past few weeks. School officials are asking the community and schools for increased vigilance and additional safety measures in order to safely continue school operations. This memo outlines the school district’s current status as well as the measures that the school system is taking to increase safety and maintain operations. There are two primary measures that must occur following the Thanksgiving Holiday break to continue to safely operate schools and to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in our community:

  • Parents, students, and staff must complete the revised Daily Health Screening, and
  • Students or staff who have COVID-19 like symptoms must have a negative test before they can return to school, or they must remain in isolation or quarantine for 10 days.

Both of these measures are required due to the increase in the number of cases in Albany County and the further risk of transmission.  These measures are taken in consultation with local health officials and with the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The following information provides the rationale for these measures.

TIER III (100% REMOTE LEARNING) NOT LIKELY

The school board outlined specific COVID-19 metrics to monitor in the Maintaining School Operations report approved at the September School Board meeting.  Each operating tier had specific thresholds to consider when making strategic operational decisions.  Albany County has met some of the thresholds identified in the report. However, one specific metric does not necessarily trigger a specific action, especially in the environment of continual uncertainty. The guidance by the CDC and state health officials continues to be updated as health officials learn more about COVID-19. The data and guidance that informed decisions 2 – 3 months ago, is not necessarily the same information that school and health officials are using now to make decisions.

Barring a directive from the federal or state government, at this time it is unlikely that ACSD#1 will entirely shut down or move all schools to a Tier III status (100% remote learning).  The risk of transmission in the schools is increasing, but the mitigation strategies that have been implemented in our schools continue to keep the risk of spread in the schools to a low threat and a manageable concern.

The focus for Tier 3 metrics described in the September report included the following:

  • More than 5% positive cases in the county
  • More than 2 cases per day in seven day rolling average in the school community
  • Less than 80% student and staff attendance in Tier II
  • Less than 2 week supply of PPE and sanitation supplies

The greatest concern for our community is the percentage of positive cases in the county.  The percent of positive cases in the county was less than 4% on October 15th and less than 5% up until November 9, when for the first time the percent of cases exceeded 5%.  For the past two weeks, the percentage of positive tests has been over 5% but under 6%.  This data is taken from the Wyoming Department of Health website and is a rolling 14 day average.

When we reach a threshold, we assess the context of the situation and make a decision. Even though the number of cases exceeds 5%, this is not an automatic trigger for Tier 3. There are other factors that must be considered before we move to Tier III and 100% remote learning in a classroom or school building. We continually consult with the Albany County Health Officer, Dr. Allais, regarding community spread, and Dr. Allais concurs that the school district should not implement Tier 3 for any school building, in part due to the greater concerned expressed by CDC guidance to maintain school operations:

Schools are an important part of the infrastructure of communities, as they provide safe, supportive learning environments for students, employ teachers and other staff, and enable parents, guardians, and caregivers to work. Schools also help to mitigate health disparities by providing critical services including school meal programs and social, physical, behavioral, and mental health services.[1]

We continue to believe that students and staff are safe at school, and the mitigation strategies that have been implemented will lessen the current threat of increased COVID-19 transmission in our community.

Another Tier III metric included in the September report was the number of positive cases per day in our schools over a seven day rolling average.  We are presently over the threshold of two per day, but the context of these cases is not due to transmission in the schools. When this metric was established, we believed that two cases in a building would indicate significant spread in the schools.  But this is not the case. Rather, the positive cases almost without exception result in transmission outside of school. The mitigation strategies that are being implemented at the schools are working—small group gatherings and appropriate physical distance, use of face coverings, and frequent hand washing.

The final two metrics for Tier 3 consideration (satisfactory attendance and adequate supplies) have not been a concern.  Student attendance is consistently between 92 – 95%, and we have personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation supplies.

Community Support and Additional Intervention

The increasing prevalence of community spread requires that the school district implement additional measures and continue to encourage adherence to existing procedures for the greater, common good.

Health officials and epidemiologists often refer to the Swiss Cheese model for mitigation strategies.  Here is a sample of the model:

The important aspect of the model is the cumulative power of all of the mitigation strategies to work together to reduce the threat and spread of COVID-19.  The first level of mitigation is the health screening tool that the district has shared to remind parents and students that if they are ill or have even the slightest symptoms, they should stay home.  Unfortunately, everyone is not using the health screener, so it is left to others in the school community to guess whether parents are following the health screening procedure.  In some cases, students are attending school with slight symptoms, and with the level of transmission in our community, this increases the risk of threat of transmission in our schools.

Our school community must do better to complete the health screener, so we have confidence that everyone is seriously considering the health risks of others.  The health screener will be updated following the break to include additional symptoms that have been added to the CDC potential COVID-19 symptoms list.

Secondly, the CDC has provided updated guidance for schools related to when and how long students should be at home due to exposure to COVID-19 (close contact) or how long they must be isolated due to a positive case.  Initial guidance from the CDC attempted to mitigate the amount of time that students could miss due to isolation or quarantine.  New guidance recognizes that communities must address the possibility of increasing spread and the greater risk that is present due to community spread.  The CDC clarifies that

We learn more about COVID-19 every day, and as more information becomes available, CDC will continue to update and share information. As our knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 evolves, this guidance may change. Based on the best available evidence at this time,

  • CDC does not currently recommend schools conduct symptom screening for all students in grades K-12 on a routine (e.g., daily) basis.
  • Parents, caregivers, or guardians (“caregivers”) should be strongly encouraged to monitor their children for symptoms of infectious illness every day through home-based symptom screening.
  • Students who are sick should not attend school in-person.[2]

The school district will revise the symptoms check list to include other minor symptoms (congestion or runny nose) for parents to assess their children prior to arriving at school. The school district’s nurses may require parents to keep children home for longer periods of time due to ongoing health symptoms. Students who have been in close contact with a positive case will continue to be required to quarantine for 14 days.  Earlier guidance permitted students who had symptoms and who had no known contact with an infected person to return to school once they were symptom free.

Starting November 30, 2020, symptomatic students will be required to have a negative COVID-19 test as well as be symptom free for 24 hours with no fever (without fever reducing medication) in order to return to school before the required 10 day quarantine or isolation. 

This new safety measure is due to the increased transmission in our community and the possibility of an increasing threat in our schools. The school district will work with families to assist students to find a no cost COVID-19 test, but the negative result must precede a return to schools for the health, safety, and welfare for the entire community.

Thanksgiving Travel and Returning Procedures

Guidance from the CDC recommends that people not travel during the Thanksgiving Holiday, but they offer some tips if you must travel.  The school district will not impose quarantine measures for staff or students who travel out of the county, but we do ask that when people return that they monitor for even the slightest trace of illness and remain home until they are symptom free.

[1]  CDC guidance document, Indicators for Dynamic School Decision-Making. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/indicators.html#thresholds

[2] CDC guidance document, Screening K-12 Students for Symptoms of COVID-19. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/symptom-screening.html