A member of the Homer High School football program has contracted COVID-19, and as a result the entire program is quarantining.
The positive case was announced late Tuesday night on the school’s Facebook page by Principal Douglas Waclawski. He wrote in the post that the school learned of the positive case late on Tuesday. Pegge Erkeneff, director of communications, community and government relations for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, said the district cannot specify whether the case involves a student athlete or a member of the coaching staff.
“The district is honoring FERPA and HIPAA laws, and unless directed by Public Health, does not confirm the status of a person who is positive for COVID-19, and connected with a school,” she wrote in an email.
The school, in conjunction with the district, has conducted contact tracing and has identified and communicated with close contacts of the person, Waclawski wrote.
“Principal Waclawski was in close communication with the district office leadership, and Nursing Supervisor Iris Wertz also assisted with contact tracing, and personal calls to close contacts,” Erkeneff wrote.
This is the first positive case of COVID-19 involving a Homer-area school. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District identified one COVID-19 case in September in Soldotna High School. Seward Elementary shifted to remote learning last week after two cases were reported in the school.
The entire football program at Homer High is now quarantining for 14 days, according to Waclawski’s post. The school itself will remain open on a normal schedule for its in-person students, he wrote. Erkeneff said the district is involved in all decisions about whether to keep a school open or move it to 100% online learning.
The quarantine will last through Oct. 17. Erkeneff explained that the 14-day count for quarantining begins on the last day of exposure to a positive COVID-19 case.
“So for example, after a positive COVID-19 test, contact tracing goes back in time to when the person first began feeling symptomatic and then backtracks their activities for the two days prior to onset of symptoms,” she wrote. “If it were a rapid test for someone with no symptoms, contact tracing also goes back in time for two days to identify any close contacts.”
Homer High School hosted its homecoming football game last Saturday against Soldotna High School.
“Everyone who would have been a close contact at the Oct. 3 football game has been identified and contacted,” Erkeneff wrote.
Therefore, there should be no concerns for fans who were at the game if they have not been contacted by a contact tracer, she said.
Contact tracing did not indicate any close contacts between the person who tested positive and members of the Soldotna football team, Erkeneff said. The Stars football program will not be quarantining.
Even with the COVID-19 case identified in a Homer school, the southern Kenai Peninsula region of the school district remains in the low-risk category for community spread of the virus. Low-, medium- and high-risk categories are how the district monitors COVID-19 activity across its regions and makes decisions about what mitigation measures (like pausing sports programs or potentially closing a school) to make. The categories are calculated based on how many new positive cases a region has had within the last 14 days.
The southern Kenai Peninsula is in the low-risk zone with two new cases over the last 14 days. So is the central peninsula, with 23 new COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days. Although the eastern peninsula has had nine new cases over the last 14 days — putting them in the high-risk category — the district announced Wednesday the schools would continue to operate under medium-risk standards.
“Kindly keep everyone in your thoughts, and do the 3 W’s: Wear a mask, Watch your distance, and Wash your hands,” Waclawski wrote in the Facebook post. “Thanks for your good thoughts as our Mariner family navigates these times.”
In an email after the Oct. 3 football game, but before the positive COVID-19 case was announced, Athletic Director Chris Perk said there were about 375 total spectators counted who attended the Oct. 3 game. According to the mitigation plan that was submitted for the game, there was a spectator cap of 250 people. Waclawski explained that cap was specifically for the stands at the football field.
The 250-person cap was calculated by determining how many people could sit in the facility’s stands while maintaining 6 feet of distance. The calculation did not take families into account, who can sit together as they are part of the same household.
Waclawski said that when the event reached its 250-person threshold, the school allowed additional spectators in but directed them to sit in the grassy areas on either side of the stands, and not to enter the stands. They were also directed to socially distance, he said. The limit of 250 people in the mitigation plan was maintained for the actual stands, he said.
Waclawski wrote in an email that school staff monitor the spectators throughout the game to keep an eye on numbers. He said he also went back and reviewed photographs taken of the stands.
“At no point did we have any more than 200 people in the stands at any one time,” he said in a Wednesday phone call.
The total number of people who entered the game also does not take into account people who left early.
Homer High School had been slated to host the area’s first playoff football game on Oct. 17, which is now the last day of the football program’s quarantine. According to a communication from Waclawski to families and staff, provided to the Homer News by Erkeneff, Waclawski said a decision about how to handle the Oct. 17 playoff game is up to the Alaska Student Activities Association.
“I know this is stressful for everyone and disappointing for our football program,” Waclawski wrote to families and staff. “Chris Perk, our athletic director, is working with ASAA to try and move our first playoff football game to a later date if possible. We will get through this as a school and we will come out stronger.”
The school district keeps track of cases and risk levels here: www.kpbsd.k12.ak.us/communications.aspx?id=42007
You can visit the COVID-19 information hub here: covid19.kpbsd.org.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Douglas Waclawski’s name.
Reach Megan Pacer at email@example.com.