Positive tests send students home

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18 kids told to quarantine after 2 Ridgway Elementary staffers contract COVID-19

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Eighteen Ridgway Elementary School students are currently in quarantine after two school staff members tested positive last week for COVID-19, marking the first time the pandemic has forced students in Ouray County to stay home since in-per son classes resumed five weeks ago.

The student, who represent about 12 percent of the school’s enrollment of 154 and fell across multiple grade levels, and three staff members are in the middle of a 14-day quarantine after Ouray County Public Health officials announced two women in their 6os tested positive for coronavirus.

Both staff members, one of whom showed symptoms, were tested at the school on Sept. 29 as part of Ridgway School District’s regular testing program that alternates weekly between the elementary and secondary schools. The positive test results came back the night of Sept. 3o, Superintendent Susan Lacy said.

“I feel really good about all of the things we were doing protectively,” she said. “You can still have this sort of situation happen.”

Lacy said contact tracers with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment identified 18 students who had close contact with one of the staff members who tested positive, triggering the recommendation that they quarantine. By the Centers for Disease Control’s definition, someone is considered to be in close contact if they were within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 13 minutes starting from 2 days before the onset of the illness until the time the infected person is isolated.

School officials, however, were frustrated by how long it took contact tracers to reach the families of students.

Lacy said school nurse Elizabeth Cassidy notified families after school Oct. 1 that they should expect to hear from contact tracers that night to determine whether their children were in close contact and should therefore quarantine. But most families didn’t hear from state health officials until the next day, Oct 2, after some of them had already sent their children to school that morning. Students who were supposed to quarantine

Ridgway Elementary School Principal Trish Greenwood sent an email to the parents of students who had to quarantine apologizing for the way the situation was handled.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the contact tracing would not occur until the following day. It was a complete shock to us and we tried to remain calm and respond as quickly as possible. We apologize for the terrible inconvenience this caused you and the confusion your children may be experiencing. We are committed to improving the process for any similar situation in the future,” she wrote.

For students who were quarantined, teachers on Monday sent them packets they could work on from home and planned to schedule virtual meetings so they could interact with their classmates. The quarantined students will be able to return to school next week.

The district enacted a multitude of protocols in returning to school this fall in an effort to guard against the virus. It required masks for kindergarten through izth grade students and recommended them for preschoolers. Teachers hold class outside as often as possible. Inside the elementary and secondary school buildings, the district changed air filters and purchased air purifiers for rooms without windows.

Lacy said the district's health practices, aimed at reducing COVID-i9 transmission, have had the additional benefit of tamping down other illnesses. Normally by this time of year the school has far more cases of runny noses and colds than they’ve experienced this year, she said.

Given the two staff members who tested positive, Lacy said she and others will re-examine the scheduling of the elementary elective classes and see if they can reduce close contact across multiple grades.

At some point, you have to remember we’re here to educate children,” she said. “We have to balance minimizing lots of exposure and multiple exposures with the fact our children need to be together and need to be learning and there’s an inherent risk.”

With the district’s Oct. 15-20 break fast approaching Lacy knows school officials will have to be vigilant about enforcing protocols when classes resume, as the risk of infection increases with travel. She said her job to inform and educate, not “direct the decision of every family in our community.”

“We can send them the links to the information, we can encourage that if they’ve been in a place that might be an area of high risk to quarantine before they return to school. But we can’t mandate that. That is part of the messy part,” she said.