Aspen students quarantined after student presumed to have more contagious strain

Aspen Elementary School.
Aspen Times file photo

Pitkin County health and Aspen school officials are awaiting the results of roughly 30 to 35 COVID-19 tests given Friday to mostly lower-grade elementary students and two teachers to see if they are afflicted with a more contagious variant of the coronavirus.

Pitkin County Public Health administered Friday’s tests after a student at the elementary school tested positive for what is suspected to be a variation of the coronavirus, resulting in the quarantine of two classes. The result is some 30 families with elementary school children are in quarantine, according to Superintendent David Baugh.

The student is believed to have the B117 variant, which was first found in the U.K. in December. The student has symptoms but did not require hospitalization.

The test from the student with the suspected variant will be further analyzed this weekend at a state lab for confirmation. The B117 strain is believed to transmit more easily — 30% to 35% higher, Pitkin County epidemiogist Josh Vance said Friday afternoon — but its long-term health risks remain unknown.

It would be the first time a student at the district has been known to have a strain of the coronavirus; Pitkin County has one confirmed variant case so far, Vance said. That case is unrelated to the one at the school, he said.

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Baugh emailed the school community after 9 p.m. Thursday with the news.

“To be transparent, we learned late this afternoon there is the possibility of a variant exposure of Covid-19 and Pitkin County Health, with the assistance of our medical team, informed about 30 of our families that the quarantine would be extended by 4 days. That is the only change in the status of those currently quarantining. That and they are being requested to test for the variant virus — this testing will be under the guidance of Pitkin County Health.”

Speaking Friday, Baugh said: “The tests aren’t just to see if they are positive, they are to see what kind of strain of COVID-19 it is.”

Vance said shortly after 5 p.m. Friday results were expected to come back within 48 hours.

The school hasn’t been administering asymptomatic Curative tests since Jan. 20; elementary students currently aren’t being tested, while the middle and high school are using Aspen Covid Testing, which are administered nasally.

The family of the elementary school student with the suspected variant had the student tested independent of the district, Vance and Baugh said.

At the middle school, roughly 43 students and “several staff” are in quarantine, but Baugh said Friday the variant appears to be restricted to the elementary school at this time.

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