As students return from quarantines, Aspen School District concerned about spring break COVID uptick

District will offer free COVID-19 testing at end of spring break for families and teachers

Aspen School District will see a “net gain” in in-person attendance this week as 140 students and staff return to school after required quarantines, according to Superintendent David Baugh.

He said Monday that 23 students and staff entered quarantine after exposure to a presumed positive case.

Fifty students and staff returned Monday and 46 more can return Tuesday.

Another 44 are cleared for a return to school March 28 but won’t actually attend in-person classes until after spring break scheduled for next week (March 29 to April 5). That group includes several dozen lower-grade Aspen Elementary School students who had to quarantine for 14 days after they were exposed to a student with a suspected case of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19.

In the past 14 days, the school district has recorded nine positive cases of COVID-19: three students and one teacher at Aspen Elementary School, four students at Aspen Middle School and one student at Aspen High School, according to the school district’s online COVID-19 data dashboard as of Monday evening.

That dashboard also indicates 131 students and 16 staff in quarantine March 21, but that number is not up-to-date with this week’s groups returning and newly quarantining individuals, Baugh said.

“We’ve designed intentionally to have most of the kids in school. … Quarantine is just the nature of this year,” Baugh said.

Pitkin County Public Health epidemiologist Josh Vance wrote in an email that the suspected B.1.1.7 case identified in an Aspen Elementary School student earlier this month is still pending sequencing and has not been confirmed. The public health team is “aggressively testing close contacts” of those with identified variant cases to identify any new suspected cases in the community, Vance wrote.

Baugh said he is concerned that the district could see an uptick in cases — and quarantined cohorts — as students take vacations during spring break.

“Could it be worse after spring break? I think it could,” he said. As much as he would like to see low COVID-19 case numbers in the district after the break, “hope isn’t a plan,” Baugh said.

The district will offer free testing to families and teachers April 5 at Aspen Middle School to help identify possible cases before they enter the classroom.

All schools continue to follow Pitkin County’s “Five Commitments of Containment” (mask-wearing, hand-washing, social-distancing, staying home when sick and testing and self-reporting when symptomatic), though that social distance can now be just three feet instead of six according to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think they’re about six months overdue on making that announcement,” Baugh said Monday.

Some teachers have already begun rearranging their classrooms to embrace the 3-foot rule, he said; those changes are at the discretion of the teacher.

“We’ve always tried to maintain (that distance) as much as we could, knowing full well that you can’t in schools maintain 6 feet,” Baugh said. ‘We’ve relied on the other containments far more.”

Pitkin County’s move from Yellow- to Orange-level restrictions starting Wednesday won’t significantly impact school operations, Baugh confirmed.

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