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COVID cases soar while schools encourage safety measures

Summit County faces high COVID-19 transmission rates as students return to class today. KPCW has this update on what administrators have in place to help reduce infections in schools.

As Summit County hosts thousands of out-of-town visitors and COVID-19 case counts among resident’s break records, students and staff returning to school have new quarantine guidelines from the CDC.

The CDC shortened its recommendations for quarantine and isolation protocols. CDC officials now say people with COVID should isolate for five days if asymptomatic or if symptoms are improving. The CDC strongly recommends strict mask-wearing for another five days beyond that.

Park City School District sent a letter to parents, teachers and staff outlining a voluntary new 'test to start' program. Testing will be at Park City High School and Ecker Hill Middle School from 7:15 to 9:15 am through this week.

The letter outlines mitigation strategies in place in schools. All the strategies recommended to reduce transmission are voluntary. They include wearing masks indoors and vaccinating everyone aged five and up. The notice also discusses social distancing, sanitation and hygiene practices, filtering and ventilation in school buildings, and encouraging people to test and contact trace when exposed.

Park City School District shows 32 confirmed cases across the district but no new COVID cases as of Monday, January 3.

North Summit School District Superintendent Jerre Holmes said since school started in August, the district has offered daily testing at each school. He said they'll test anyone who asks – not just the school community.

Holmes said currently, there are two cases in the elementary school and none in the middle and high schools.    

"Before the Christmas break, our elementary reached that 2% threshold that the county had turned on for a mask mandate. So we went, I think five days before the break, with masks in our elementary school. Most people were good sports about it. Obviously, we have those who are strongly against it. And we got through that."

The Summit County Health Department announced it would end its mask mandate Dec. 31 for schools that hit a 2% positive case count threshold.

Holmes said the mask mandate isn’t the only way they could respond to spiking COVID in schools. If there are 30 positive cases in any school, other mitigation measures may be adopted including ‘test to stay.’ The Utah state legislature requires schools with 30 or more active covid cases to implement a test to stay program.

"And now the county is taking that 2% threshold off, and we continue to keep track of our numbers. And what we really don't want to get to is that 30 number which would put us in the 'test to stay' and that will create a lot of chaos if we get to that point. So, we're hoping to not even get close to that. But if we do, we may have to put in some measures. And I'm not going to say what that is because that'll just create a lot of phone calls for me. We'll do what we can to mitigate before we get to 30."

In a letter posted on the website, South Summit School District encourages everyone to stay home when sick. The district will provide the new CDC quarantine guidelines and how the schools will address traditional winter illnesses.

The January 3 New York Times Covid tracker reports the number of Summit County cases is extreme, with the last week's totals exceeding all positive case counts since the pandemic began. The report says that more than 19% test positivity rate in Summit County is very high, suggesting a significant undercounting of cases. Positive case counts do not include those who test positive and live out of the county.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.