Here’s how ASD is keeping watch for COVID-19 in local classrooms

 Anchorage School District building (KTUU)
Anchorage School District building (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Feb. 18, 2021 at 6:27 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Since last July, the Anchorage School District has been working towards the eventual transition to in-person learning. Starting late last month, the district’s youngest students were welcomed back into classrooms, followed by a gradual return of older students.

Now, ASD faces the daily challenge of monitoring hundreds of classrooms each day, to protect students and teachers from the risks posed by COVID-19. That’s where PTAC, or “the pandemic tracking and charting” system comes in. The district’s IT department developed the program specifically to connect ASD Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Ashley Lally and her team with school nurses.

“Most of my day job now is tracking all of the potential and confirmed COVID cases in schools,” Lally told Alaska’s News Source.

She after three other ASD employees monitor individual “cases” as they are reported by school nurses. A case isn’t necessarily referencing someone who has been exposed to the virus. Nurses are flagging any instance where a student or teacher calls in sick or displays systems that could potentially be related to COVID-19.

“I’d say it’s between five and seven hundred every day,” Lally said.

Students and teachers who fall into that category will be asked to quarantine for ten days or provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before returning to the classroom. Thanks to 18 testing machines that the school district has located at different sites, some tests are conducted and a safe return to class can happen on the same day that a case is first reported.

ASD says that actual COVID-19 cases across the district have been averaging at around a little more than 40 active cases at any given time. Considering that these totals account for thousands of teachers and the entire student population — that is less than 1%.

The current protocol in elementary schools calls for notifying every student’s family and the entire staff whenever a positive case is confirmed. The school district sends out different guidance for each person, based on whether or not they can determine that close contact with the infected individual occurred.

The decision to take the affected classroom back to online learning is made on a case-by-case basis, depending on things like the level of exposure that appears to have taken place and whether a substitute teacher is necessary and available.

ASD estimates that since classes first resumed, the average number of classes closed at any given time is somewhere between 5 to 8.

“We’re on it ... We’re here to keep the schools open and we understand that it requires a lot of work on our part,” Lally said.

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