COVID-19 forces 4 Seward area schools to close classrooms

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (in yellow) — the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (in blue/pink) cultured in a lab. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – Rocky Mountain Laboratories)

Four Kenai Peninsula schools are reverting to remote learning as rates of coronavirus infections rise, and a case is identified in a Seward school.

Seward Elementary, Middle and High school, as well as Moose Pass School, closed their doors to in-person learning Friday morning. Students will continue with classes online until community case rates on the eastern peninsula stabilize, according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

There was also an active case reported at Redoubt Elementary in Soldotna Thursday. Because central peninsula schools are still considered “medium risk” and the case was quickly contained, that school will remain open, said the district.

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Pegge Erkeneff, district spokeswoman, said Seward schools were on the verge of going remote even before there was an active case there.

“Principals and then teachers have been telling students, ‘When you leave, make sure you take things home just in case we switch,'” she said. “And the teachers have been anticipating, because everyone is watching the case counts rise, that this might happen.”

Erkeneff on Friday declined to name which Seward school had the coronavirus case. The district did not specify whether the case was a staff member or a student.

The district has a matrix of severity that it’s using to make decisions about closures. A community is considered “high risk” when there are more than 10 cases per 100,000 people.

The eastern peninsula, which has a population of more than 5,000, currently has nine active cases. On the central peninsula, there are 33 cases per approximately 37,000 people, putting it on the low end of “medium risk.”

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Seward Elementary already shifted to remote learning once, in September, because the district had to do contact tracing on a case they learned about late at night. Around the same time, the district learned about a case at Soldotna High School on the central peninsula, but that case was reported early enough in the day that it could be traced and close contacts quarantined before school the next day, Erkeneff said.

Eastern peninsula schools will stay remote for at least a week, so teachers and families don’t get whiplash from switching back and forth between in school and out of school, Erkeneff said.

“If case counts stay high in Seward and we know that there’s community spread, then we’ll be in 100% remote learning potentially for a couple weeks, however long it takes,” she said. “But at this point what we’ve said is we’ll be in 100 percent remote learning for sure for next week, so that parents and teachers can all plan.”

Two Homer High football coaches also tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week, sending that school’s football team into quarantine and bringing the district’s overall case count to seven positive staff cases and four positive student cases. The southern peninsula is still considered a “low risk” region, with two cases per 14,000 people.

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