Livingston schools see uptick in COVID cases

Sam Klomhaus — Enterprise Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 24, 2021

A rise in COVID-19 cases at Livingston schools has officials concerned, but school will go on as planned for the time being.

A total of 63 district students and staff were quarantining or isolating because of COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Livingston School District’s COVID-19 dashboard.

“We aren’t changing what we’re doing other than reinforcing the safety protocols we’ve been kind of wedded to for a year,” Superintendent Don Viegut said Wednesday.

Those protocols include masking, social distancing, emphasizing hygiene and minimizing exposure, Viegut said.

Schools will not close in response to the rise in cases, Viegut said.

According to the district’s outbreak dashboard, 10 district students are isolating because of positive tests for COVID-19. That includes four students each at East Side School and Sleeping Giant Middle School, as well as one each at Winans Elementary and Park High.

In addition, 38 students are quarantining because of close contact with a positive case at school, and 21 students are quarantining because of close contact away from school.

Two students are symptomatic and quarantining awaiting a COVID-19 test result, according to the dashboard, and two staff are quarantining because of a close contact away from school.

A total of 24 students at Sleeping Giant are quarantining, plus 14 students at Park High, 13 at East Side and 10 at Winans, according to the dashboard.

The school nurses are monitoring the district’s COVID-19 situation every day, Viegut said.

“We’re learning to live with the ups and downs of the incidence rate of COVID,” Viegut said.

With all district schools back to in-person learning, School Nurse Holly Sienkiewicz said, district staff are waiting to see if any of the close contacts turn positive, although none have done so yet.

Sienkiewicz said the district will know by the beginning of next week if a lot of positive tests start turning up from close contacts.

“I really don’t expect that to happen, but we’ll have to wait and see,” Sienkiewicz said.

Park County Health Officer Dr. Laurel Desnick said the rise in school cases was “very, very worrisome.”

Sienkiewicz said the district pretty much knows where the students were exposed to COVID-19, and it hasn’t been in the schools themselves.

Desnick said the cases have been spread through social events, family activities and sports, and to her knowledge no one is picking up the virus in the actual school setting.

The biggest difference between this increase and past clusters of cases in schools is the number of students who have been infected across the different schools, Sienkiewicz said.

Earlier in the year, she said, clusters seemed to be limited to individual schools. 

The only spread within schools also occurred earlier in the year, at the beginning of the school year in August, according to Sienkiewicz.

“We’ve done really well,” Sienkiewicz said. “We haven’t had any big outbreaks at all.”

The district’s protocols for symptomatic people are working, Desnick said, as anyone in school who develops COVID-19 symptoms is tested immediately. 

Many of the school cases are being detected by testing at Livingston HealthCare, the Health Department’s testing site or through voluntary testing through the schools, Desnick said, and both the testing and contact tracing processes are going well.

Some students have had to quarantine two or three times now, according to Desnick, which has been the cause of some consternation. It’s especially bothersome for those named as close contacts of active cases who were exposed through no fault of their own, she said.

“We certainly have some frustrated parents who want their kids in school,” Desnick said.

“We’re just very thankful to the families that are cooperating with this,” she said.

Viegut said the district will soon be able to hold classes outside and open the windows of school buildings, which should help matters.

Lunch has been a big challenge, according to Sienkiewicz, and will remain a challenge until it gets warm enough for the students to go outside to eat.

Viegut noted educators in Park County are in the process of being vaccinated. Approximately 187 Park County school staffers received their first doses of the Moderna vaccine Thursday at Park High.

“We’re a nickel away from a much more normal setting,” Viegut said.

Desnick urged the community to come together and look out for each other by following the COVID-19 guidelines and keep everyone safe.

“This is about us caring about each other,” Desnick said. “We really need to think about the consequences of our actions on the people around us.”