The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

School district changes COVID policy for close contacts

The policy went into effect on Nov. 29

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District staff and students identified as close contacts of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 may have the option to return to school immediately under new protocols implemented by the district last week.

Prior to Nov. 29, people identified as close contacts followed different protocols depending on whether or not they were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or had been positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days.

If a student or staff member is identified as a close contact and wants to return to work or school, they must wear a face covering for 14 days, remain symptom free and have two negative COVID-19 test results, with the first test taken on the first day after being identified as a close contact or first day of return to school and the second test taken between days five and seven.

The announcement comes as COVID-19 cases across Alaska and on the Kenai Peninsula have declined. KPBSD’s COVID-19 dashboard shows the peninsula’s central, southern and eastern peninsula are all still at high risk level, with more than 3,600 students identified as close contacts since the school year began. As of Friday, 860 students had tested positive for COVID-19, as had 184 staff.

The new protocols similarly apply to student athletes, who must also continue daily symptom check protocols in order to continue participating in school-sponsored co-curricular activities.

Close contacts who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 should quarantine when not attending school or activities sponsored by the school district.

Close contacts are defined as anyone who spent a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more within 6 feet of someone who is COVID-positive over a 24-hour period. There’s a difference between a close contact and secondary contact — also known as a contact of a close contact. A person who lives with someone identified as a close contact does not need to change anything about their daily routine, but should monitor for symptoms of illness.

That applies to students who are identified as a close contact of someone who tests positive. The other people in that student’s household are secondary close contacts, and do not need to change their daily routines. Parents who have students at more than one school can continue to send their other kids to school if they are secondary contacts.

In a Nov. 24 letter to the KPBSD community explaining the change in protocol, KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland said less than 6% of close contacts at school led to additional cases of COVID-19. The changes also build on conversations about the existing policy and a review of what other school districts around the state and country are doing.

“We have had good success in the past two weeks piloting this process with nearly 100 students and staff in three schools,” Holland wrote in a Nov. 24 letter. “It will be important that we maintain integrity with our existing layered mitigation plans so that we limit the number of students and staff going through a close contact process.”

District administrators and members of the KPBSD Board of Education heard extensive testimony during the board’s Sept. 13 meeting from parents who felt that the district’s close contact protocols kept students out of school unnecessarily. Holland first floated the idea of allowing asymptomatic staff and students to return to school during a board work session in October.

KPBSD offers free COVID-19 tests at schools and is making available at-home tests that are free for staff and students. The district is also working with Soldotna Professional Pharmacy to offer free COVID testing off campus and is actively working to make the same opportunity available elsewhere on the Kenai Peninsula. COVID-19 tests administered by the school district require parental consent.

The district has emphasized a “layered” COVID mitigation strategy since the beginning of the school year that includes social distancing to the extent possible, bipolar ionization disinfection of air through buildings’ HVAC systems and a continuation of hygiene etiquette, such as frequent hand-washing.

When a student tests positive for COVID-19, that student will not be allowed to return to school until at least 10 days after the onset of their COVID-19 symptoms or after the date the student tested positive. To return to school, students must also be symptom-free for 24 hours without medication and be cleared by public health.

More information about KPBSD’s COVID-19 protocols can be found at covid19.kpbsd.org.

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

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