Testing at Aspen schools unearths positive test, sends 34 students, 9 staff members home

Thirty-four students returned to online learning Thursday after one of the Aspen School District’s employees tested positive for COVID-19.

School officials learned about the positive test result at approximately 6:30 a.m. Thursday, Superintendent David Baugh said.

It was the sole positive result to emerge from the district’s first day of COVID-19 testing held Tuesday, when about 200 employees, ranging from administrators to bus drivers to teachers, were voluntarily tested. A “handful of kids” also were tested Tuesday, and another 486 were registered to be tested Friday on campus, Baugh said.

The district is making its tests, which it gets from the Los Angeles-based lab Curative, available to students and staff on a weekly basis. They are administered using oral swabs that are shipped overnight to L.A. for analysis.

“We believe these tests are highly reliable and they are fairly accurate,” Baugh said, noting that this week’s test positive helps “cut down on transmission opportunities. We believe it worked.”

Along with the students, another nine adults also aren’t returning to school. Pitkin County Public Health is monitoring their situations and will make the call when they can return to the campus.

“We don’t have any symptoms for those students or for the adults, but we do have a positive case that’s asymptomatic,” Baugh said, “so that piece is tricky.”

Baugh said patient-privacy laws preclude him from identifying the role of the person who tested positive.

“I can’t get into that level of detail but this person is an employee at Aspen High School and is quarantined effective this morning,” Baugh said, “and we are coordinating with Pitkin County Health.”

Those students and teachers impacted in the meantime will continue their class work online.

Middle and high school students returned to in-person learning, through a weekly cohort system, on Oct. 27. The elementary school, which used a cohort approach since September, opened fully that same date.

The opening of the schools to live classes continues to bother some teachers yet they continue to work. Teacher Tameira Wilson, speaking at Monday’s school board meeting held over a Zoom conference call, called on board members to hold their meetings in person as a show of unity. Board members said they would make that happen using health protocols.

“I have no problem doing it in person,” said Katy Frisch, board member.

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