Eagle County investigates COVID outbreak at private school in Roaring Fork Valley
Cornerstone Christian School supplies vital information Monday after initially declining to cooperate
The Aspen Times
A private school in the Basalt area started to provide information Monday about a COVID-19 outbreak among students and staff after missing a deadline Saturday to assist Eagle County Public Health Department’s investigation.
Public Health Director Heath Harmon said Cornerstone Christian School started providing some of the information Monday afternoon on the numbers and names of people who have tested positive. There are still “a couple of gaps” in the information that the health department hopes to fill, he said.
“We may still need to do a public health notice,” Harmon said. Such a notice would alert the public of possible exposure to COVID-19 from specific incidents.
Earlier on Monday, Eagle County attorney Bryan Treu said his department was prepared to seek a court order to get the requested information from Cornerstone. He said county officials were “frustrated” by the lack of cooperation by school officials regarding the outbreak at the school.
“We’re not getting any cooperation,” he said.
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Cornerstone has also ignored Eagle County’s mask mandate for children in public and private schools, but Treu said the county’s more pressing concern is the number of cases at the school.
“Our focus is on the outbreak,” he said. “We know of at least four cases since Oct. 1.”
County officials are concerned that the school isn’t requiring staff and students affected by the disease to isolate while they are recovering, which could have an impact on the broader community. Despite the outbreak, the school invited the public to a fall festival that it hosted Sunday afternoon.
“What happens at Cornerstone doesn’t stay at Cornerstone,” Treu said.
The Eagle County Public Health Department gave Cornerstone’s Pastor Jim Tarr an ultimatum on Friday to provide information on the outbreak. If there is no cooperation, the department said in a letter, the next steps could include issuing a community-wide notice warning of the outbreak at the school.
Tarr couldn’t be reached for comment Monday by The Aspen Times. He previously said in statements to the Eagle County commissioners that the school feels that only parents should decide whether students should wear a mask.
In the letter sent to Cornerstone on Friday, Harmon wrote: “My office has received reports that between October 1, 2021, and the present date, at least four students and staff of Cornerstone have tested positive for COVID-19 infection. One case from earlier this month resulted in hospitalization. Three other cases were confirmed within the last 1-2 weeks.”
Harmon told The Aspen Times his department’s investigation also will attempt to determine if there were any deaths of people associated with Cornerstone from COVID-19.
None of the cases were reported by Cornerstone to public health officials with Eagle County or the state of Colorado, according to the letter. Instead, his office learned of the cases from “local medical providers and a local sheriff’s office.”
Harmon wrote that he is aware that testing has been ongoing and that additional positive results are likely.
“We also have reason to believe that neither students nor staff have been required by Cornerstone to stay home/isolate when sick,” the letter said.
The letter formally put Cornerstone on notice that it was violating a state public health order that requires all schools to report all COVID-19 cases and outbreaks to their local public health agencies.
The letter specifically sought:
• All data concerning testing, including the types of tests performed, the name of the person(s) doing the testing, the names of people being tested and the results.
• The names and contact information of any person who tested positive, including the names of guardians for anyone under the age of 18.
• Any notifications sent to the families of staff and students explaining the potential for exposure to someone confirmed to have COVID-19.
• Contact information for families of each student and staff member so that for each positive case, Eagle County Public Health could send appropriate instructions on possible exposure.
Harmon said his department started to receive information in each of those four areas on Monday afternoon.
The letter stressed why it was important for Cornerstone to provide the information.
“Your cooperation in this matter is imperative, and will help minimize further impacts to children, families, volunteers, staff, and the community at large,” the letter said.
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