Students Sabriel Davidson and Kenadi Smith play on the swings on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 at Fireweed Academy in Homer, Alaska. Elementary students were able to return to onsite schooling five days a week starting Monday. (Photo courtesy Todd Hindman/Fireweed Academy)

Students Sabriel Davidson and Kenadi Smith play on the swings on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 at Fireweed Academy in Homer, Alaska. Elementary students were able to return to onsite schooling five days a week starting Monday. (Photo courtesy Todd Hindman/Fireweed Academy)

District to relax mask requirement during outdoor activities

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is planning to relax masking requirements for staff and students when they are participating in outdoor activities, including recess.

The district formally announced their plans to relax the protocol during Monday’s meeting of the KPBSD Board of Education. The effective date of the policy change, however, was delayed to later this week due to an increase in positive COVID-19 cases on the eastern peninsula.

After plateauing earlier this year, COVID-19 case numbers are starting to increase. That increase comes amid rising vaccination rates statewide and growing concern among state health officials about COVID-19 variants. On the Kenai Peninsula, roughly one in five residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Among people eligible to be vaccinated — people 16 and older — that rate is higher at about 27.2%, more than one in four.

The minimum age requirement of 16 to be vaccinated means that some high school students are eligible to be vaccinated. As of Tuesday, the only vaccine approved in the United States for people under 16 and older was Pfizer and BioNTech’s. Moderna and Janssen’s — also known as Johnson & Johnson’s — vaccines are available for people 18 and older.

KPBSD Nursing Supervisor Iris Wertz said Monday that KPBSD is not keeping track of how many students are vaccinated and that a student’s vaccination status does not impact whether or not they are required to follow COVID-19 mitigation protocols. Specifically, a student’s vaccination status will not impact antigen screening for extracurricular activities or mitigation protocols in the classroom.

Regarding extracurricular activities, Wertz cited guidance from Dr. Coleman Cutchins with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, which says that screening COVID-19 testing should still be conducted among people who are vaccinated, and that all results should be handled the same way among unvaccinated people. That guidance could change when community or facility vaccine rates increase following the expansion of eligibility to children under the age of 16.

A student’s vaccination status will make a difference in how long they are required to stay home under the district’s symptom-free protocol. Students and staff who are fully vaccinated — meaning they are 14 days out from their second or only vaccine dose — and develop symptoms of illness, only have to stay home until they are 24 hours symptom free. Individuals who go on to experience a loss of taste or smell are required to take a COVID-19 test prior to returning to school.

More information about KPBSD’s COVID-19 protocols can be found at kpbsd.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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