Sanitization equipment is seen inside of a classroom at Kenai Middle School on Friday, Jan. 8 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Sanitization equipment is seen inside of a classroom at Kenai Middle School on Friday, Jan. 8 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

School district looks ahead to potential COVID cases following spring break

Three COVID variants had been detected in Alaska as of last Wednesday

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education discussed Monday what steps are being taken to mitigate a potential rise in COVID-19 cases following spring break travel by students and their families and staff. KPBSD’s spring break begins on March 8 and lasts through March 12.

KPBSD Nursing Supervisor Iris Wertz said Monday that the district will not be enforcing any type of quarantine for people who travel over spring break. A lapse in the state’s emergency disaster declaration means that COVID-19 testing protocols related to travel, such as taking a test upon arrival at the airport, are now suggestions rather than mandates.

“The current travel advisories say things like ‘we should’ and that we ‘should consider,’ but there are no ‘musts,’ and so we are following that,” Wertz said Monday. “We are also finding that people are being very reasonable when we encourage them to be tested when they come back into the state … but when it comes down to it, we aren’t enforcing any quarantine.”

Wertz said Monday that over the past month eight district students have tested positive for COVID-19, including four who tested positive over the last week.

KPBSD Superintendent John O’Brien voiced concerns about people in the community traveling over spring break and contracting a COVID variants.

“My concern at the moment is with mass travel about to go on during spring break on the part of staff, families and variants that are out there that are much more contagious than the original COVID that we have the potential after spring break to see numbers increase again in the state of Alaska,” O’Brien said.

As of last Wednesday, three cases of COVID variants had been identified in Alaska, including two cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first detected in the U.K. and one case of the P.1 variant, which was first detected in travelers from Brazil. Those variants, including another first detected in South Africa, are believed to be more contagious and are circulating worldwide.

Wertz estimated that between 500 and 550 district staff have already received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 400 staff who were vaccinated during large-scale clinics specifically targeted to district staff on Feb. 26 in the central, southern and eastern peninsulas. None of the COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for use by children, due to no children having participated in the vaccine’s initial studies.

O’Brien said that he does not see indoor masking requirements for schools being lifted before the end of the school year, but that if low community transmission of COVID-19 continues the masking requirement for recess and outdoor activities may be lifted “sooner rather than later.”

“I continue to get voicemails that are, you know, pretty angry towards me, calling me a coward concerning the fact that we’re following what our state medical leaders are saying we should be doing, what the commissioner of education is saying we should be doing and what the Centers for Disease Control and all these other groups are,” O’Brien said Monday.

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

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