As Flagstaff Unified School District officials wait for the community to meet health benchmarks that would allow for reopening schools, the team is working on other aspects of its COVID-19 response, including a COVID dashboard and appointment of a disease investigator.
The district has been sending weekly updates to families to show any progress made in the local COVID-19 situation that would allow for in-person classes to be reestablished, based on data from Coconino County Health and Human Services (CCHHS).
In the latest report, dated Oct. 23, the number of COVID-19 cases in the FUSD area increased from about 179 to 206 per 100,000. Percent positivity of testing also increased from 4.2% to 6.5%, while the percentage of COVID-like illness remained at 3.9% from the previous week. With only one of these benchmarks in the category for minimal transmission, FUSD will remain in full remote learning.
There have been some changes to these Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) benchmarks for reopening schools, though. Previously, if any of the three benchmarks fell under the category for substantial transmission, it was recommended that a district keep classes online, said Superintendent Michael Penca during a governing board meeting Tuesday. Now, though, the color-coded system recommends a hybrid model for FUSD, which would allow some in-person instruction, despite the fact that its COVID-19 rate falls under substantial transmission. The district is currently seeking clarification from ADHS and CCHHS on this change.
To help the community monitor the district’s COVID-19 situation, Penca said the district will release its COVID-19 dashboard as early as Friday. This dashboard will be sent to families alongside the current weekly updates and will include data on active investigations and new COVID-19 cases among the FUSD community, as well as cumulative data dating back to the first day of the school year.
Although the initial suggestion was to share case numbers for overall elementary, middle and high school populations, following input from the board, Penca said the goal is to have more detailed reporting by school, other district sites as well as athletic groups.
“We’ve been coordinating with our chief health administrator, county health officials and getting our data verified to make sure that we present that information in a very transparent way but also in a way that protects the confidential health information of individuals associated with our school district staff and students,” Penca said.
According to its existing policy, if there is a confirmed COVID-19 case within the school district, FUSD leaders will follow contact tracing procedures to identify and contact all possible direct contacts and indirect contacts, such as individuals who attend the same school. This applies to the safe learning centers being held at several schools during remote learning and will also apply when schools reopen for in-person classes, Penca said.
During the meeting, the board also approved the appointment of Kacie Pajkos as its disease investigator to assist the chief health administrator in the district’s COVID-19 response. Pajkos has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Northern Arizona University and has experience working with students, grant writing and scientific publishing.
Coconino County has asked individuals throughout the county to report suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 within their school to https://coconino.az.gov/2475/case-reporting.
Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at email@example.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253.
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