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Community transmission rate a roadblock for Aspen schools

An Aspen School District bus parked in front of Aspen Middle School on August 26, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The unknown long-term effects of COVID-19 on youth as well as a 40% rate of community transmission are two of the main reasons why the Aspen middle and high schools remain closed to in-person learning, Pitkin County’s epidemiologist said Wednesday.

The bigger concern isn’t about an outbreak at the schools, but “it’s the kids getting infected. What are the long-term effects?” epidemiologist Josh Vance said during a Zoom conference presented by the Aspen School District and Aspen Family Connections.

Longer-term symptoms with youth “remains unknown,” un.org reported Tuesday, and Vance said there’s just not enough completed research into the effects of a virus that hasn’t been around for one year.

The other factor keeping schools closed is community transmission, which is when the original source of a virus spread cannot be identified. Pitkin County’s rate is 40% whereas a safe level for opening schools is between 5% and 10%, he said.

“If we reduce transmission in the community, I know we will feel better about the schools opening,” Vance said.

The ASD also has a task force working on a reopening plan and “how it is going to occur and when it is going to occur,” Assistant Superintendent Tharyn Mulberry said.

The principals of the elementary, middle and high schools are scheduled to present their reopenings at Monday’s board of education meeting.

The decision to open the schools ultimately rests with Superintendent David Baugh, Mulberry said, noting that call will be informed by local and state health recommendations.

Not all of the school district is closed.

The K-8 Aspen Community School in Woody Creek is open to in-person classes, the Cottage preschool re-opened after closing due to an infected student, and Aspen Elementary School debuted its hybrid model Sept. 8. Under that system, one cohort of students attends classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other on Thursdays and Friday. Wednesday is set aside for teacher planning.

Middle and high school students began remote learning the last week of August.

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s color-coded dial dashboard that debuted this week classified Pitkin County on Wednesday as “Safer Level 2: Concern,” under which metric the state suggests K-12 public schools use “in-person, hybrid or remote as appropriate.”

Counties in that Safe Level 2 zone have a COVID-19 incidence rate of 75 to 175 cases per 100,000 residents. Pitkin County’s rate was 78.8, keeping it shy of “Safer Level 1: Cautious.” Under that level, the CDHE says “in-person suggested, or hybrid, remote as appropriate.”

The CDHE recommends in-person learning when counties are in the “Protect Our Neighbors” category. Five of Colorado’s 64 counties — Gilpin, Gunnison, Mesa, Moffat and Rio Blanco — were in that zone Wednesday.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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