More school closures, longer contact tracing as Mat-Su COVID-19 cases rise

Superintendent Randy Trani said the high volume of positive tests means it takes longer to track down close contacts
Each school with a positive COVID-19 case gets deep cleaned by custodial staff.
Each school with a positive COVID-19 case gets deep cleaned by custodial staff.(Heather Hintze)
Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 4:48 PM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - The Mat-Su Borough School District has had an increase in school closures as the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the area continues to rise.

Four schools — Colony High, Mat-Su Career Tech, Houston Jr./Sr. High and Wasilla High — are closed for the week of Oct. 19-23. There were a few other short term closures at the beginning of the week but the schools are expected to be back open on Wednesday.

Two more schools, Palmer Junior Middle School and Big Lake Elementary, both closed on Wednesday due to COVID-19 cases. Big Lake will stay closed at least through Friday, and Palmer Junior Middle will receive an update on Sunday.

MSBSD Superintendent Randy Trani said the higher volume of cases means it takes longer for their health team to do contact tracing to figure out where the student or staff person was throughout the entire day.

“When the cases were smaller, we and community health had enough resources to quickly track we could open up the next day or in some cases only shut down a room. But now that the volume is up the closures are going to be still short term but longer,” Trani said.

Each school that’s shut down gets a deep clean. Trani said the district used Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding to hire more custodial staff and buy equipment.

He said the priority is to keep elementary schools open if it’s safe to do so. A closure usually means parents have to find alternate childcare and that can be difficult at the last minute.

Teachers have lesson plans ready to go in case a school closure happens after hours or on the weekend.

“We wanted to make sure there were at least two days of lessons that a kid could pick up if they didn’t have their computer with them because we knew the closures may not necessarily happen in the middle of the day, they could happen after school,” Trani said.

He said it’s easy to trace some of the positive cases back to gatherings held a few weeks ago. Trani encourages families to keep their social bubbles small and follow all of the safety guidelines so the district can continue to offer in-person instruction.

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