With COVID quarantine numbers continuing to be high early in the school year and 27 students testing positive Friday, the Cody School District implemented a plan that would not mandate masks, but allows students deemed in close contact with a positive individual to remain in school with a mask, as long as they are asymptomatic, for the quarantine period.
At a special board meeting Tuesday night most trustees expressed support for the district administration to further examine the plan ahead and move closer to possible implementation. Friday, interim superintendent Tim Foley sent out a letter to parents informing them the plan would be adopted. As of Friday, 93 students were also in quarantine.
Our school nurses do an excellent job of contact tracing and reaching out to families when an exposure occurs and our teacher provide remote instruction to quarantined students, putting a greater demand on our teachers," he wrote. This approach is not sustainable. If our quarantine numbers continue to increase, the result may be full-time remote education."
There was no need for the school board to take action to implement the plan.
Trustees all agreed something had to be changed from the current model. The district started the year recommending face masks and requiring all students or staff without a mask or unvaccinated to quarantine if deemed to be in close contact with someone COVID positive. Foley said as of Tuesday night, four staff and 14 students in the district were positive for COVID, while another three staff and 85 students were quarantined.
He said the elementary schools have been hit the hardest, with the quarantines coming in waves, first at Livingston, then higher numbers at Sunset and now at Eastside.
“Our numbers are quite a bit higher now than they were,” Foley said. “The virility of this strain is so much greater, it spreads so much easier, so part of it is that.”
That mirrors the rise of cases and especially hospitalization in Park County, where 17 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, and because of the amount of people sick from not just COVID but other issues, Foley said the hospital had two intensive care patients it tried to transfer to a bigger hospital, such as Salt lake City or Denver, but those hospitals did not have the room.
The new option, first developed in Utah, would not mandate masks, but give any student with close contact with a COVID positive person but no symptoms a choice to either quarantine for 10 days or wear a mask for 10 days and continue to attend school as long as they are not displaying symptoms.
The talk came a day after the close of a survey given to all elementary school parents. Foley said the reason to focus on elementary parents is virtually no elementary school children are old enough to get a vaccine, while the vast majority of middle and high school students are eligible. While 54% of elementary school parents surveyed supported the idea of their students wearing masks to avoid quarantine, 66% also support the matter being left up to personal choice as opposed to mandating all students wearing masks.
The vast majority of elementary school teachers supported masks to avoid quarantines and most supported all students being required to wear masks.
Chair Brandi Nelson said this issue was falling on administrations to make decisions because the state and local elected health officials had decided against doing orders or mandates as had been done last year.
“Everybody medical has taken their hands from it, said elected officials can make the decision,” she said. “It almost has become this administrative, school district function. It’s frustrating.”
There was some pushback by trustees, including Jessica Case.
“Almost everybody that gives info is telling us to mask, test,” she said. “We’re bending over backwards to not do the guidance given to us.”
Trustee Sheri Schutzman countered that public comment last year had included many elementary school parents worried about students not being able to see faces.