More than 1,000 Kenai Peninsula Borough School District students and staff have been identified as close contacts of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, KPBSD Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff said Wednesday.
Between Aug. 23 and Sept. 1, the district has been made aware of 180 COVID-19 cases, including 25 staff and 155 students. An additional 97 staff and 985 students have been identified as close contacts.
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 has said previously 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.
River City Academy became the most recent school to implement universal indoor masking for staff and students in response to surging COVID-19 case numbers. That policy will be in place until Sept. 17, when it will be reevaluated.
In announcing the change, RCA Principal Dawn Edwards-Smith cited the school’s small space and exceptions to close contact quarantine in schools where universal masking is in place.
“Universal masking in our school will result in less students needing to quarantine,” Edwards-Smith wrote in a letter to the school community. “When everyone wears a face covering in school, students are not considered close contacts if both the student who tests positive is wearing a mask and the students near them are also wearing a face covering.”
The district announced Tuesday that all eastern peninsula schools will require masks through at least Sept. 10 due to a rise of cases there.
The district intends for a new dashboard that will track COVID-19 cases to go live on Thursday.
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.
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.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.