Local school and health officials are discussing whether a dismissal of in-person classes is needed at Ridgeline High School in Millville due to 18 reported active cases of COVID-19 there.
“We’ve been working with the health department on that closely today and monitoring that situation,” Cache County School District spokesperson Tim Smith said early Wednesday evening. “Our plan is to wait another day, kind of see what the numbers look like tomorrow, probably make a decision on whether we go to remote instruction sometime Friday.”
Smith sent out an email explaining the situation to parents on Wednesday, and if in-person classes are dismissed, parents will likely be alerted via text message to check their email for the full announcement.
Utah’s COVID-19 guidelines for schools recommend a two-week dismissal of classes if a school reaches 15 active cases at a time, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule.
“Once those numbers are hit, it really triggers that discussion between the health department and the school as to what they’re going to do,” said Josh Greer, a spokesperson for Bear River Health Department. “We’re not making that decision for them. We’re going to help them, give them the best information they can get when it comes to the cases and what we see happening, and then really we rely on the school and the district to make that decision.”
About half of Ridgeline’s active cases came from the school’s football team, according to Smith. Multiple key players were out with the virus, reportedly including at least two starting offensive linemen, during its game against Sky View last Friday. Games in ongoing playoffs were specifically exempted from Gov. Gary Herbert’s Nov. 8 emergency order postponing high school extracurricular activities for two weeks.
COVID-19 cases have been increasing dramatically in Cache County. The rate of new cases declined through much of the summer before bottoming out at less than 10 new cases a day at the beginning of September. By contrast, BRHD reported an average of 180 new cases a day for the period of Nov. 10-17.
“It’s been something that we’ve been very concerned about for 30 days or so as we’ve seen the community spread,” Smith said. “We know that eventually what happens in the community spills over into the schools. And with the governor’s new mandates for the community, and we were hoping that that has an impact as people are a little more careful and guarded on the community level.”
Quarantines are posing significant challenges for the district, especially at Ridgeline, where more than 300 students and staff were reported in quarantine as of Wednesday according to Smith.
To help alleviate some of the burden quarantines place on students, teachers and families, the district has started two centers that can test students after seven days in quarantine to determine whether they’re eligible for Utah’s policy allowing shortened quarantines if low-risk criteria are met.
“We are seeing a very low transmission rate on anybody that we quarantine,” Smith said. “Most of the transmission is happening either because someone’s not wearing a mask or in the community setting.”
Smith said students seem to be complying well with mask rules within classrooms, especially in elementary schools. It’s also much less complicated to understand who a student may have exposed to the virus in elementary schools, where students stay in the same classroom throughout the day.
“We feel really good about where we’re at with the elementaries,” Smith said, but it’s “a little more difficult in our secondary setting.”
Active cases are up elsewhere in Cache County School District, as well, with Green Canyon High School and South Cache Middle School both reporting 10 or more. South Cache and Spring Creek middle schools are both reporting about 150 quarantined students.
Logan City School District was only reporting 18 active cases among all of its schools as of Monday, but half of those were concentrated in Logan High School.
While relatively few of Cache County’s confirmed cases of the virus have been among young people, they’re also less likely to show symptoms and therefore get tested, making it difficult for epidemiologists to track the virus. The governor’s office announced plans to increase testing among young people, including eventual workplace testing for those younger than 35, to help slow the spread of the disease.
While two COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be ready for the public as early as next month, the rollout will likely stretch well into 2021. The Utah Department of Health on Wednesday outlined how it will prioritize who gets the vaccine in multiple waves, estimating the final phase, labeled “likely sufficient supply,” to arrive in July.