Point of View: Keep practicing COVID-19 safety to reopen schools

Safe practices, testing and contact tracing will bring numbers down.

Dear Homer Community:

On my short and limited excursions around town this fall, I was impressed by the majority of people and businesses practicing social distancing and wearing masks. It was a rare person I came across who was not wearing a mask when in public.

I wanted to personally thank the Homer community for these COVID-19 safe practices you have employed because I believe that is one reason we were able to have in-person learning for an entire quarter. Despite all the changes in the building, it was glorious to be working face to face (albeit masked) with students again. There is no doubt that your safe practices contributed to the delayed flare up of COVID-19 in Homer as other places around the state were unable to even start in-person learning or flip flopped back and forth.

Having students in school is incredibly important, not just to students’ academic, physical and social development, but to community health as a whole. We need kids in school and parents working, and we need your help once again.

We are in our third week of remote learning and the COVID-19 cases continue to rise dramatically. The good news is we know our actions as a community can have an impact on this. Collectively we must be vigilant about following state guidelines: wearing masks in public, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings where close contact with non-household members is likely, staying home if you are sick, and yes, getting tested.

There is a real temptation to not get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms because you don’t want to be “that person” or “that family” that sends the numbers up and keeps the kids out of school. At the very least, if you are in this situation, it is important to isolate yourself to prevent the spread. However, contact tracing is the most important tool at our disposal to limit further spread and stamp out this current flare up.

If you choose to test, it allows contact tracing to be more effective, giving public health a better chance of containing the virus. Imagine if you tested positive and your three children did not test. If they were in fact also carrying the virus and we didn’t know, their close contacts would not be identified and quarantined, allowing positive cases to continue to grow exponentially. Put simply, the more we test, the better job public health can do of isolating the virus. Without this information, contact tracers have limited ability and the virus will continue to spread in undetectable ways in our community, potentially keeping schools in a remote mode for months.

So please, continue COVID-19-safe practices and by all means if you are experiencing symptoms, even mild ones, follow the state guidelines of isolating yourself, and strongly consider getting a test. http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/testing.aspx. Even though it may seem counter intuitive,our kids getting back to school depends on it; our ability to minimize the spread depends on it; our parents getting back to work depends on it.

Eric Waltenbaugh serves as principal of West Homer Elementary School.