Eagle County School District starts to see COVID-19 numbers trend down
However, the decrease is not enough to repeal the mask mandate, as parents continue to add pressure to do so
After several COVID-19 spikes since the beginning of the school year, Eagle County Schools has started to see its positive case and quarantine numbers decline. At the district’s Board of Education meeting Wednesday, Superintendent Philip Qualman delivered some positive news around the district’s COVID-19 trends.
“We’re coming off of a pretty significant spike toward the beginning of the school year,” Qualman said. “This really bodes well for us — our case counts right now are dropping, our quarantines are dropping. Our hope is that we’re getting through this delta spike in Eagle County.”
As of Sept. 21, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, the district had 26 students that were positive for COVID-19, 39 students in quarantine and 40 students in remote learning. And, the district had one staff member with a positive test and one staff member in quarantine. This represents a downward trend, as these numbers were nearly twice that Sept. 7.
This dashboard also tracks the current number of unfilled staff positions, and as of Sept. 21, the district had 22 unfilled. This number does not include the 67 positions across the district that remain unfilled due to the staffing shortage.
At the meeting, Qualman said the district is keeping a close eye on the unfilled positions via the dashboard, calling it the “key threshold for us as to whether or not we can keep school running in person. When that gets too high, we run out of staff, and it’s difficult for us to operate safely.”
Currently, according to the Colorado Department of Health & Environment’s COVID-19 data tracker, the one-week incidence rate in Eagle County — that is the number of positive cases per 100,000 between Sept. 15 and Sept. 21 — is at 197.9.
While this is still considered “very high” by the state, this represents a decline from previous week’s incidence rates.
“What public health has set as our threshold for lifting the mask mandate is 50 (cases per 100,000),” Qualman said.
Recently, Eagle County Public Health added a graph to its COVID-19 monitoring dashboard, which tracks the weekly case incidence rate by school age groups. On Sept. 5, there was a spike in every school age group, however, these numbers have begun to drop. As of Sept. 19, the incidence rate for under-5-year-olds was 6.83, 2.71 for ages 5 to 10, 5.87 for ages 11 to 13 and 1.86 for ages 14 to 17.
Parents ask for repeal of mandate
At the board meeting, parents continued to ask for a different policy on masks, citing concerns for children’s mental and physical well-being.
On Sept. 15, the district announced that, in compliance with Eagle County Public Health and Environment’s revised public health order, the mask mandate would remain in place through Friday, Oct. 29.
One parent requested a change in policy for students who had already tested positive.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about the renewed public health order for children kindergarten through eighth grade, as well as the subsequent school mandates,” Heather Bergquist said. “We can easily recognize if decisions about COVID-19 restrictions are based on health, data and evidence. If they are, public health and Eagle County Schools will immediately amend their public health orders and district-wide mandates to state that all children who have tested positive for COVID-19 now possess durable, active immunity and are henceforth exempt from masking, quarantining or cancellations as a result.”
In the event that students and families decide to opt out because of mask mandates, they can participate in remote learning via World Academy. Students that are on short-term quarantines or are sick can access lesson plans from their teachers via Schoology.
At the meeting, one parent expressed concern that this option was not working for her student as he has learned remotely for the past two-and-a-half weeks.
However, she expressed that his online learning was “not working,” and asked the district to have these pieces for students to learn in place and working so students don’t fall behind.
According to an email from Matt Miano, the chief communications officer for Eagle County Schools, the district believes that this frustration was likely that remote learning has changed from last year.
“Remote learning has changed somewhat from last year where teachers were available in real time for students in short-term remote learning, such as quarantine. With students fully back in classrooms this year, that opportunity is no longer available,” he wrote.
Multiple parents asked for the board members, as elected officials, to stand up against the mandates and expressed frustration as they felt that their concerns weren’t being heard.
“Every time I come here, I feel like the buck gets passed up the ladder: it’s public health, it’s the commissioners or it’s the county or the governor that makes the decisions,” Dan Silva said. “We elect you so you act on behalf of us, and we don’t see anything happening.”
Others stated that the mandates restricted their freedom as well as their students in asking for the mask mandate to be lifted.
“Please give back authority to the parents to make medical decisions, whether it’s masking, testing or getting the shot,” Krista Keiser said. “We are responsible, willing and able to make our own decisions.”
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.