On Tuesday, just hours after announcing the first positive COVID-19 case in a Powell student this year, Park County School District No. 1 adopted a metric to help guide decisions for keeping schools …
On Tuesday, just hours after announcing the first positive COVID-19 case in a Powell student this year, Park County School District No. 1 adopted a metric to help guide decisions for keeping schools open, transitioning to a hybrid model or closing school buildings and offering only online instruction.
“This is a guide — it’s not a hard-and-fast,” Superintendent Jay Curtis said of the metric. “That means when we get to this point, we will strongly consider taking the next move. All of those decisions will be run through public health.”
While the metric references numbers of active cases — for instance, it suggests 15 cases in Powell over a two-week period could lead to a move to Tier 2 — it doesn’t mean Powell schools will automatically transition to the next tier if Park County’s cases reach a certain number.
“This is why it’s so tricky to come up with something like this — it depends on if it’s a standalone event, or if it’s community spread that’s causing 15 cases,” Curtis said during a board meeting last month. “There is a difference.”
For instance, if 200 people went to a wedding and 15 people contracted the virus from that one event and were quarantined, it’s different from 15 people getting COVID-19 through community spread.
The district used guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for its metric, calculating rates based on Park County’s population. While the metric was developed last month, it was officially approved as part of the district’s reopening plan on Tuesday.
Powell schools opened Aug. 25 under Tier 1, where buildings are open to all students with restrictions, such as social distancing and the use of face coverings “to the greatest extent possible.”
Schools will remain in Tier 1 as long as “local viral trends exhibit a very low level of community transmission.” The number used in the metric is less than 30 active cases of COVID-19 in Park County over 14 days, or less than 15 active cases in Powell in the same time period.
“The 14 days is based specifically on the length of time that it takes to get through a quarantine,” Curtis said.
The district is keeping a spreadsheet of local COVID cases to track a 14-day rolling average, which will help inform decisions.
If there’s a moderate level of community transmission, local and state health directives may require schools to transition to Tier 2, a hybrid model of in-person instruction and adapted learning, such as virtual education, alternative schedules and remote education. Under the metric, a move to Tier 2 could be prompted by 30 to 60 active cases of COVID in Park County over 14 days, or 15 to 25 active cases in Powell.
The metric also takes into account the district’s ability to successfully control the school-related spread of the virus using various safety measures, such as face coverings and social distancing.
Moving to Tier 3 would be based on a high level of community transmission, prompting school closures. Under the metric, a possible move to Tier 3 could happen when there’s more than 60 active cases in Park County over 14 days, or more than 25 cases in Powell.
School leaders are reviewing local COVID-19 infection rates at least once a week, and they’ll continue to stay in touch with Park County Public Health.
“In all cases, local health officials will be used to help determine appropriate actions by the district,” the metric says.
The Powell school board unanimously approved the metric on Tuesday as part of the district’s amended reopening plan.
The metric is loosely based on one used in Walla Walla, Washington, where Trustee Kimberly Condie’s son teaches. Within Wyoming, “no district that I spoke to or heard from has produced any kind of decision-making metric outside of the CDC’s very loose guidelines,” Curtis told the board last month, when the metric was discussed. The superintendent said Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin signed off on Park 1’s metric and encouraged him to share it with other school districts.
In addition to the metric, the district also added details about COVID-19 testing to its reopening plan.
If an employee is exposed to the virus in a school setting, the district will provide COVID-19 testing for all staff not covered by the district’s health insurance. The testing will be in partnership with Powell Valley Healthcare, and the district has some funds from the CARES Act to help cover the cost of those tests.
Park 1 also is considering participating in COVID-19 surveillance testing through the State of Wyoming. However, Curtis told the board that “I’m becoming more uncomfortable with it,” because the state is talking about testing students for COVID-19. Once more details about the surveillance testing emerge, the district will decide whether to go forward with it, Curtis said.
The updated reopening plan is available on the district’s website: www.pcsd1.org.