A sign in front of Kenai Middle School is seen on Sept. 2, 2021, in Kenai, Alaska. The school recently suspended indoor mask requirements for students and staff. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign in front of Kenai Middle School is seen on Sept. 2, 2021, in Kenai, Alaska. The school recently suspended indoor mask requirements for students and staff. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

2 schools suspend indoor mask requirements

Kenai Middle School and Sterling Elementary Schools are no longer requiring face masks in indoor settings for students and staff.

Kenai Middle School and Sterling Elementary Schools are no longer requiring face masks in indoor settings for students and staff, effective Tuesday, according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s COVID-19 dashboard.

KPBSD Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff confirmed Tuesday that the schools are no longer requiring universal indoor masking following district conversations with both principals and district analysis of “a variety of metrics.”

The district announced updates to its COVID-19 mitigation plan for the 2021-2022 school year at a meeting of the KPBSD Board of Education Meeting last week. According to those updates, a “conversation” between district administrators and school site administrators is triggered when a school district meets four out of five criteria outlined in the plan.

Factors considered include a school community positivity rate of 3% or higher, a student absenteeism rate of 25% or higher, local and regional hospital and ICU capacity, a community’s COVID-19 case count per 100,000 people and the impact of a schools staff absenteeism rate.

For a school to suspend universal indoor masking, the school must also meet specific criteria. Using data from days six to nine of when universal masking was instituted, the school’s community COVID positivity rate must be less than 1% and the student absenteeism rate must be less than 25%. The district also considers local and regional hospital capacity, the community’s number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days and the rate and impact of staff absenteeism.

As of Tuesday, Kenai Middle School’s seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate was 0.9%, according to KPBSD’s COVID-19 dashboard. Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna was operating at 132% capacity and treating 25 patients with COVID-19, five of which were in the ICU and one of which was on a ventilator.

Ten KPBSD schools — not including schools in “small communities” — were operating with universal masking as of Tuesday, with many of those policies set to be reviewed on Friday. Nanwalek School was operating remotely as of Tuesday. Sixty-nine students and 17 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week districtwide.

KPBSD quarantine protocols

Unvaccinated, asymptomatic close contacts of someone who is COVID-positive must immediately quarantine. They can return to school one to two weeks after exposure once cleared by public health.

Unvaccinated, symptomatic close contacts of someone who is COVID-positive must immediately isolate. If that person tests positive, they must keep isolating. If they test negative, they must stay home while symptomatic or until finished with seven- to 14-day quarantine, whichever is longer, then talk to a health care provider and consider testing again before returning to school.

Vaccinated, asymptomatic close contacts of someone who is COVID-positive do not need to quarantine. They must get tested within three to five days of exposure, must wear a mask for 14 days and should carefully monitor for symptoms over the next two weeks.

Vaccinated, symptomatic close contacts of someone who is COVID-positive must get tested and immediately isolate. If that person tests positive, they must keep isolating. If they test negative, they must stay home while symptomatic, then talk to a health care provider and consider testing again before returning to school.

Regardless of vaccination status, symptomatic individuals with no known contact should immediately get tested and stay home. A positive test means that person must isolate for 10 days. A negative test means that person should stay home while symptomatic, then talk to a health care provider and consider testing again before returning to school.

The CDC distinguishes between quarantine and isolation. Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick, while quarantine restricts people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.

KPBSD’s full COVID-19 mitigation plan, as well as community case numbers and quarantine protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated students is available on the district’s COVID-19 website at covid19.kpbsd.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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