A sign welcomes visitors on July 7, 2021, in Seward, Alaska. Due to a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, school in Seward and other areas of the eastern peninsula switched to universal indoor masking this week. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign welcomes visitors on July 7, 2021, in Seward, Alaska. Due to a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, school in Seward and other areas of the eastern peninsula switched to universal indoor masking this week. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Eastern peninsula schools now require indoor masking

The policy will be in effect through Sept. 10.

All of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s eastern peninsula schools now require universal masking indoors for staff and students in response to surging community and school case numbers. Seward Elementary on Monday became the first eastern peninsula school to adopt universal masking. Seward Middle School, Seward High School and Moose Pass School followed on Tuesday.

The policy — for eastern peninsula schools — will be in effect through Sept. 10, when the district will reexamine and determine whether the schools can go back to encouraging, rather than requiring, masks for staff and students.

The news comes a day after KPBSD Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff said the 130 student and staff COVID-19 cases were reported districtwide between Aug. 23 and Aug. 30. An additional 930 staff and students were identified as close contacts during the same time.

KPBSD is using the same COVID-19 quarantine guidance as the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services for the 2021-2022 school year, with those protocols largely based on whether or not the contact is vaccinated. However, the district observes an exception to those guidelines if an infected individual and their close contact were correctly using well-fitting masks and other mitigation measures were in place in the school. That exception only applies to schools where universal masking is observed.

In schools that do not follow universal masking for staff and students, a close contact is defined as anyone who is within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. Once the district learns of a positive COVID case, close contacts are notified and a general communication is shared with the school community.

The quarantine protocol for close contacts depends on whether or not the person exposed is vaccinated, symptomatic or has tested positive for COVID in the last three months. Erkeneff said that when close contacts are called by their school nurse, that contact is asked to verify, if applicable, that they are vaccinated or that they have had COVID in the last three months. Erkeneff said KPBSD Nurse Melisa Miller asks for a vaccination status card or documentation of a positive COVID-19 test, and asks other school nurses to follow the same procedure.

The district announced last week that it would be launching a central dashboard to track positive COVID-19 cases in schools. KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland said during a session with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services last week that the dashboard, when completed, will track the number of COVID-19 cases in each school as well as the percentage of students impacted and resolved cases.

Other district schools already operating with universal masking include Port Graham School, Susan B. English School and Tebughna School. Nanwalek School was operating remotely due to a seven-day “hunker down” order issued by local community authorities, effective Aug. 25. The school was expected to open to on-site learning on Wednesday.

People can confidentially report a positive COVID-19 test for themselves or their child to their school nurse or to Nurse Miller by calling 907-260-2391 or by emailing MMiller@kpbsd.k12.ak.us.

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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