2021 in Review: COVID-19 and the schools
Earlier this fall marked the first semester since the fall of 2019 that all of the students in the Moffat County School District returned to school without separate cohorts or masks. Through the end of the year, schools across the district have consistently kept their COVID-19 numbers low.
But that’s a change from last school year, and it’s also not the end of issues that stem from the interruption in traditional learning modes.
Administrators, staff and parents are returning to normalcy and working to correct the “COVID slide,” or the slow-down or even backslide in learning as a result of fully remote schooling during the peak of the pandemic. Next semester is planned to be as normal as possible, as long as numbers remain low, but how did we get here?
Upon arriving in January, students and staff were looking for somewhat of a more normal semester. The teachers in the school district were given KN95 masks and ASPM level 3 masks to wear in the classroom, and many of the students in the district were in a hybrid model — meaning that one group goes in-person and the other learns remotely. Kindergarten through 5th grade were in-person all year, while the middle school and high school were hybrid.
Three quarters into the school year, the school board voted to bring all students back into the building for the final eight weeks of the 2020-2021 school year.
For the fall, masks were recommended but not required. Students were no longer split into cohorts, and there were no hybrid methods for teachings. The school district did monitor positivity rates closely, and each school was monitored separately. If one school had an outbreak, then measures would be taken only at that school instead of the whole district.
If infection rates rise above 2%, it is mandatory for all adults to wear masks, and if that rate rises above 3%, students and staff will then be required to wear face coverings. District-wide, 48 students in the district would have to test positive to reach 2%, and 72 students must test positive to reach 3%. So far this school year, none of the schools reached a 3% threshold, but several schools throughout the semester passed the 2% threshold for staff and adults to wear masks.
When traveling to schools that do require masks for athletics and other extracurricular activities, MCSD students and staff follow the protocols of the home team. Much of the contact tracing for the school district was done through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but, earlier this month, it was announced that those duties would shift back to the local level. Students in MCSD can also opt in for serial testing through the school or through CDPHE. With CDPHE testing, students can receive $10 per test as an incentive, and the state gives each student in the program $40 per month on a gift card.
With the onset of the Delta variant in the fall, there was significant concern and discussion on the school board about the possibility of imposing mask requirements or other interventions. Ultimately, nothing was changed, and while the COVID-19 mutation did leave a long-lasting mark on the community, it was perhaps somewhat less dramatically impactful than some feared.
For the past several weeks, MCSD schools have had very few positive cases, with many of the school rates consistently remaining under 1%. With the emergence of the Omicron variant, school administrators are watching closely the weeks after Christmas to see if traveling and family gatherings will have an effect on positive cases. Both Omicron and Delta are affecting younger populations, and Moffat County’s young children are minimally vaccinated.
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