Teton County School District No. 1 (COVID 2)

After Teton County School District No. 1 quarantined six elementary school classrooms and reported 45 positive student cases for two weeks, it has temporarily flattened the COVID-19 curve to just three student cases and no positive cases in staff. Lead nurse Esther Ellis said rapid testing could have been the key, but she also expects cases to bump up again after the holidays.

One month into the school year, six full classrooms — all at the elementary level — have been forced to quarantine in Jackson.

In her latest statement to families, Superintendent Gillian Chapman reiterated that “nearly all students are doing a terrific job of wearing masks throughout the school day.”

Teton County School District No. 1 reported 45 positive student cases of COVID-19 from Sept. 13 to Sept. 17, the third week of in-person instruction. Five staff members also tested positive, according to dashboard data that had not been updated to include last week’s numbers by press time.

Because of contact tracing efforts led by school nurses, between 105 and 132 students have been absent each day due to home quarantines. The school’s quarantine policy, under the direction of the Wyoming Health Department, states that students must quarantine only when masks aren’t universally worn.

School board Chairman Keith Gingery, in a Tuesday update to the Teton District Board of Health, said the majority of quarantined classrooms are at the elementary level where students are unvaccinated and younger students have more difficulty keeping their masks on.

Conversely, when a Jackson Hole high schooler gets COVID, his or her classmates are more likely to be masked up and vaccinated, reducing the need for quarantines, Gingery said. Lead nurse Esther Ellis and her team closely monitor each confirmed case and determine what preventive steps need to be taken to limit the risk of infection and slow the spread of the virus.

County dashboard data shows children ages 5-18 now account for 30 percent of new cases in Teton County.

Teton District Health Officer Travis Riddell said at the Tuesday meeting that there are already more COVID cases in schools this year compared with this point last year, a fact he attributed to the higher transmission rate in Teton County and the more contagious delta variant.

Vaccinations for children ages 5-11 are not expected to gain federal approval until the end of October.

Aida Farag, a Teton Health District board member and the mother of a high school daughter, said she receives regular emails about potential exposures in the school.

“It’s pretty exhausting,” she said. “I’m glad they’re sending these emails, [but] at the same time, it’s kind of like ‘What do I do with this information?’ There’s really not much, other than hope she doesn’t show symptoms.”

In addition to navigating multiple classrooms each day, Farag’s daughter is on the volleyball team, where she competes against school districts where masking is not the norm. At the start of the academic year, 48 Wyoming school districts opted to keep masks optional, but they are slowly starting to issue mandates as outbreaks curtail in-person education.

Farag draws comfort from the fact that she and her daughter are both vaccinated, but the board member said the near-constant updates still create an underlying sense of fear and fatigue.

In response to COVID spread in Teton County schools, which still impose a mask mandate and ask parents to keep symptomatic children at home, opt-in surveillance testing is now an option. Randomized testing will also begin this week for extracurricular activities.

Activities Director Mike Hansen said compliance wasn’t an issue with last year’s surveillance testing, though he wasn’t sure how much the tests helped limit the spread of the virus.

Teton County health officials maintain testing, masking and vaccinations are all crucial tools in the battle against the coronavirus. They’re eager for the school district to employ additional testing options through Cue Health, which should cut the wait for results by half.

Ellis said schools are a “full go” with rapid testing.

For classes that are quarantined, nurses administer drive-through rapid tests on days five and six. If the tests come back negative and no symptoms are present, students are able to use the short seven-day quarantine and return on day eight.

Contact Evan Robinson-Johnson by calling 732-5901 or emailing ERJ@jhnewsandguide.com.

Evan Robinson-Johnson covers issues residents face on a daily basis, from smoky skies to housing insecurity. Originally from New England, he has settled in east Jackson and avoids crowds by rollerblading through the alleyways.

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