Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education attend a meeting on Monday, July 12, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education attend a meeting on Monday, July 12, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

District reports 130 COVID-19 cases in schools, 930 close contacts

Seward schools joined Port Graham School, Susan B. English School and Tebughna School in requiring masks due to a number of COVID-19 cases.

Correction: This story has been changed to note that six people tested positive for COVID-19 at Paul Banks Elementary School.

Kenai Peninsula public schools have seen 130 COVID-positive cases from Aug. 23-30, with an additional 930 students or staff identified as close contacts. Locally, several Homer schools also have seen cases. In Seward, an increase in cases prompted schools there to go to universal, mandatory masking.

The latest report comes as the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District launches a new feature on its COVID-19 dashboard that will track COVID-19 cases by school. That additional set of information should go live later this week, said KPBSD Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff on Monday.

The reports of COVID-19 cases came about when the district started its new internal reporting system, Erkeneff said. They are either cases noticed in school, as when a student visits the school nurse with symptoms and gets a rapid test, or that have been reported to the nurse or administrator by parent.

At Paul Banks Elementary School, six people were reported positive with COVID-19 since Aug. 17, said Principal Jerry Stapleton on Tuesday. He did not now how many close contacts had been identified related to those cases. All involved have followed school district protocols regarding quarantining.

“The community has been amazing throughout this process — super supportive and following protocols,” Stapleton said.

Homer High School also reported one positive case last week and none this week, Principal Douglas Waclawski said. Since the school year started there have been five total cases, with about 24 at home isolating who are close contacts. None of the cases came from transmission on campus, he said.

“There’s just so many cases in the community. It’s going to come into the building. There’s not anything we can do about that,” Waclawski said.

Fireweed Academy also had one case, Principal Todd Hindman said on Tuesday. Fireweed notifies parents of cases after contact tracing has been done.

“The parents are doing the right thing and we’re asking them to do, if you see any symptoms that are COVID-19 related, please keep them home,” Hindman said.

All staff wear facemasks indoors, he said, a decision made at the start of the year. About 75% of students have been masking, he said.

Other area schools may also have reports of COVID-19 positive cases, but at press time the Homer News was not able to contact every school in the area.

KPBSD is using the same COVID-19 quarantine guidance as the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services for the 2021-2022 school year, with those protocols largely based on whether or not the contact is vaccinated. However, the district observes an exception to those guidelines if an infected individual and their close contact were correctly using well-fitting masks and other mitigation measures were in place in the school. That exception only applies to schools where universal masking is observed.

In schools that do not follow universal masking for staff and students, a close contact is defined as anyone who is within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. Once the district learns of a positive COVID case, close contacts are notified and a general communication is shared with the school community.

The quarantine protocol for close contacts depends on whether or not the person exposed is vaccinated, symptomatic or has tested positive for COVID in the last three months. Erkeneff said that when close contacts are called by their school nurse, that contact is asked to verify, if applicable, that they are vaccinated or that they have had COVID in the last three months. Erkeneff said KPBSD Nurse Melisa Miller asks for a vaccination status card or documentation of a positive COVID-19 test, and asks other school nurses to follow the same procedure.

In Seward, masks became required for students and staff at Seward Elementary on Monday in response to additional positive COVID-19 cases and student close contacts, Erkeneff said Monday.

“The principal and superintendent agreed an additional safety layer at (Seward Elementary School) was to put universal masking in place for staff and students, to avoid the need for close contact students to quarantine,” Erkeneff said.

The policy will be in effect through Sept. 9, when the district will reexamine and determine whether the school can go back to encouraging, rather than requiring, masks for staff and students.

By Wednesday, Seward Middle School and Seward High School also had gone to universal masking. Moose Pass School also adopted universal masking.

Other schools also are operating with universal masking, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard. Port Graham School, Susan B. English School and Tebughna School were all operating with universal masking per local health care requirements. Nanwalek School is operating remotely due to a seven-day “hunker down” order issued by the local community authority, effective Aug. 25. The school is expected to open to on-site learning on Sept. 7.

KPBSD quarantine protocols

Unvaccinated, asymptomatic close contacts of someone who is COVID-positive must immediately quarantine. They can return to school one to two weeks after exposure once cleared by public health.

Unvaccinated, symptomatic close contacts of someone who is COVID-positive must immediately isolate. If that person tests positive, they must keep isolating. If they test negative, they must stay home while symptomatic or until finished with seven- to 14-day quarantine, whichever is longer, then talk to a health care provider and consider testing again before returning to school.

Vaccinated, asymptomatic close contacts of someone who is COVID-positive do not need to quarantine. They must get tested within three to five days of exposure, must wear a mask for 14 days and should carefully monitor for symptoms over the next two weeks.

Vaccinated, symptomatic close contacts of someone who is COVID-positive must get tested and immediately isolate. If that person tests positive, they must keep isolating. If they test negative, they must stay home while symptomatic, then talk to a health care provider and consider testing again before returning to school.

Regardless of vaccination status, symptomatic individuals with no known contact should immediately get tested and stay home. A positive test means that person must isolate for 10 days. A negative test means that person should stay home while symptomatic, then talk to a health care provider and consider testing again before returning to school.

The CDC distinguishes between quarantine and isolation. Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick, while quarantine restricts people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.

KPBSD’s full COVID-19 mitigation plan, as well as community case numbers and quarantine protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated students is available on the district’s COVID-19 website at covid19.kpbsd.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com. Reach reporter and editor Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

More in News

Clem Tillion of Halibut Cove poses for a photo on Jan. 9, 2020, in Homer, Alaska. The veteran Alaska legislator was passing through Homer while waiting to take the M/V Tustumena ferry to Kodiak. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Clem Tillion, PFD founder and former legislator, dies at 96

Tillion died Wedneday, Oct. 13, at Halibut Cove home.

Thunder Mountain High School on April 18.  Earlier this fall, vandalism including stolen soap dispensers and toilets clogged with foreign objects such as paper towel rolls were a problem at schools nationwide and in Juneau. But, principals say the local situation is improving. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
After brief surge, vandalism subsiding at local high schools

Principals say internet trends, stress likely behind incidents.

In this Jan. 8, 2020, photo Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, heads to a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington. An Alaska man faces federal charges after authorities allege he threatened to hire an assassin to kill Murkowski, according to court documents unsealed Wed., Oct. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite,File)
Delta Junction man faces charges over threatening Murkowski’s life

Authorities allege he threatened to hire an assassin to kill the senator.

Donna Aderhold recites the Homer City Council oath of office and is sworn in for duty at the city council meeting on Oct. 11. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
New council members sworn into duty Monday

Newly-elected Homer City Council members Shelly Erickson and Jason Davis and re-elected… Continue reading

Runners participate in boys varsity race at the Ted McKenney XC Invitational on Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. The trails recently reported incidents of vandalism and theft. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Vandalism and theft reported at Tsalteshi Trails

One trail user reported stolen skis recently and multiple signs have been defaced.

At left Bonita Banks, RN, Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) nurse at Homer Medical Center, and at right, Annie Garay, RN, Community Health Educator, pose for a photo at South Peninsula Hospital on Sept. 27, 2021, at Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Derotha Ferraro/South Peninsula Hospital)
New hospital community health educator starts

Garay, a Homer raised nurse, came home to ride out COVID-19, wound up doing pandemic nursing.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Montessori school goes to universal indoor masking

As of Tuesday, eight KPBSD schools were operating with universal indoor masking for staff and students.

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Seawatch: Crabbers look at cuts to quotas

Tanner, opilio crab quotas cut on top of cancellation of fall king crab fishery.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Judge sides with psychiatrists who alleged wrongful firing

Two psychiatrists said they were wrongfully fired when Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy took office.

Most Read