A sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in Kodiak is creating major challenges at the Kodiak Island Borough School District, including forcing Kodiak High School to close for three days this week because of employee absences.
Kodiak Island Borough School District Superintendent Larry LeDoux said the high school closure, which started Wednesday, has allowed the school to get back on track. The students have been learning remotely, and are expected to return to school in person on Monday.
“Allowing the three days of temporary closure allowed us to catch up, fill positions, get a handle on contact tracing, and to see where this contagion was going,” LeDoux said.
COVID-19 cases are surging in Kodiak. The borough on Tuesday recorded its highest daily case count of the entire pandemic, with 99 infections.
According to LeDoux, there were more than 50 cases reported in the district among students and staff this week. He said Thursday that the staffing shortage has been so extreme, principals have been filling in for teachers in some buildings.
“As an example, in one of our schools on Monday morning, we were missing a principal, the secretaries, the nurse, the day custodian and the cook,” he said.
LeDoux said the district has taken the three-day high school closure to reorganize staffing. He said he expects classes will resume on Monday- although he does admit that the situation could change rapidly. He also said that the school is introducing a new tool in the fight against COVID: A new testing policy.
As of Thursday, asymptomatic students can leave school with a box of take-home tests, and symptomatic students can receive a test in person. That’s taking place at the high school’s main entrance, Thursday and Friday evening, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
On top of that, before the winter break, over a third of the student body was voluntarily testing for COVID during the day at schools around the district. According to LeDoux, that level of testing has likely stopped a lot of cases in the high school.
Sue Jeffrey has a student at the high school. She, like many parents, isn’t excited about the closure, but says she sees potential benefits.
“As far as these first three days, I thought it was prudent move. And yes, it was. It’s disappointing. However, I think that for the welfare of the community, it was a good move,” she said.
The outbreak on the island has prompted the borough and city mayors to cancel or reschedule public meetings this week, and the borough will not be allowing in-person attendance at its upcoming meeting next Monday. The hospital has also begun limiting visitor access and may consider limiting outpatient services based on positive cases among staff.
Testing in the community has been pushed to its limit too. A social media post by the Kodiak Area Native Association health clinic said test results and phone calls to COVID-positive patients have been delayed by the sheer number of positive tests.
The Emergency Operations Center in Kodiak reported 227 new cases in its Wednesday weekly update, with 175 of those coming in a 48-hour period. The weekly total is up 365% from the week prior.