Contact tracing, masking to end at schools Friday

The district announced new changes to its COVID-19 protocol on Monday

New changes are coming to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s COVID-19 mitigation protocols, the district announced Monday. Starting Friday, March 4, the district will no longer conduct in-school contact tracing and face coverings will be “highly recommended,” but not required, for students and staff while indoors in all COVID risk levels. Masks will also be optional for school visitors and volunteers.

Masks will still be required for all school bus passengers traveling to and from school, as well as for all co-curricular activities as mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Additionally, KPBSD will follow village and tribal COVID mandates for school facility operations.

As of Monday, four KPBSD schools were operating with universal masking including Fireweed Academy, Port Graham School, River City Academy and Tebughna School. KPBSD Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff said Monday that because Port Graham School and Tebughna School are under village or tribal mandates masking will continue unless other action is taken.

KPBSD’s Symptom-Free Schools Protocol remains in effect and free COVID-19 testing for KPBSD students and staff continues to be available at Glacier Family Medicine Clinic in Seward as well as at Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.

The district announced in early February that it would no longer conduct contact tracing at schools where universal masking was observed, citing the workload put on school nurses. Staff and students who test positive for and showed symptoms of COVID-19 were newly allowed to return to school or work as early as five days after testing positive, as long as symptoms are resolved for at least 24 hours without the help of medication.

The changes come as COVID-19 cases decline across Alaska and in the wake of relaxed masking guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency announced last Friday that it would begin using multiple metrics, such as hospital beds occupied and hospital admissions as well as new COVID cases, to determine an area’s “COVID-19 Community Level.” In its Friday guidelines, the CDC described community levels as being a “new tool” to help decide COVID prevention steps.

The CDC advises masks in counties where the COVID community level is “high.”

The peninsula’s COVID-19 community level was considered to be “medium” as of Saturday. At medium risk level, the CDC recommends that individuals at high risk for severe illness talk to their health care provider about whether they need to wear a mask and take other precautions.

Places with low, medium and high community levels are encouraged to stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines; residents should get tested if symptoms develop.

According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, which went live last August, nearly 2,000 positive COVID-19 test results have been reported to the district from students and more than 435 positive results from staff. The cessation of contact at tracings, however, means those data are imperfect.

KPBSD’s COVID-19 dashboard can be viewed at

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at