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3 Weber County schools’ COVID-19 case counts approach trigger level

By Tim Vandenack - | Jan 13, 2022

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

As of Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, the COVID-19 case counts at three Weber School District schools were close to levels requiring action to guard against the spread of the infection. In this Nov. 8, 2021, photo, Claire Quick preps Drew Johnson, left, before giving him a COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic at Highland Junior High School in Ogden. Behind them are health care workers Adrian Wilson, in blue, and Sameka Howard, in pink.

While other Utah schools have blasted past the 2% COVID-19 case threshold outlined in state law that requires action to prevent the spread of the infection, the numbers at some Weber School District schools are coming perilously close.

One school, in fact, edged just past the 2% mark on Thursday, according to Utah Department of Health figures. The figures show 43 COVID-19 cases at Weber High, 2.05% of the student body. At Roy High there were 38 cases, representing 1.98% of students, while at Fremont High there were 40 cases, representing 1.94% of students.

Fourteen Davis School District schools, meantime, had surpassed COVID-19 case thresholds outlined in Senate Bill 107, the measure approved last year that spells out the steps schools are to take to contend with the infection. No Ogden School District schools are at or near the case counts that would trigger action.

Lane Findlay, the Weber School District spokesperson, said district officials don’t use Department of Health data in determining the number of COVID-19 cases at individual schools, at least as it pertains to the 2% guideline. Some students who show up in state figures, for instance, may study online, thus they wouldn’t count toward the 2% threshold.

Whatever the case, district officials and Weber-Morgan Health Department reps are closely monitoring the situation. With no school on Friday or next Monday, Weber School District officials “will reevaluate our case counts when students return to school next Tuesday, and then go from there,” Findlay said.

Per SB 107, schools with at least 1,500 students must implement a COVID-19 testing regimen — called the test-to-stay requirement — when 2% of the student body tests positive for the infection. The figure is 30 students at schools with enrollments of less than 1,500.

Many schools have surged well past the 2% mark, however, which has prompted health officials and state leaders to scramble to deal with the sudden spike in demand for COVID-19 testing materials, in increasingly short supply. In response, Gov. Spencer Cox and other leaders announced change on Thursday stepping back from the test-to-stay rule, mindful of the surge in cases caused by the omicron variant.

As written, SB 107 calls on schools that pass the 2% threshold to conduct COVID-19 testing of students. Students who test positive must isolate at home while those who refuse to test must quarantine for 10 days. Under Thursday’s shift, though, schools have an alternative to testing — a move to “remote learning,” keeping kids away from schools and thus helping in efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“The surge has challenged students’ learning and stretched educators thin. At the same time, we have reached testing resource capacity, and statutorily required test-to-stay programs in schools are overextending those resources,” reads a message to school officials on Thursday outlining the changes. It was signed by Cox, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson and Sydnee Dickson, the Utah state superintendent of public instruction.

The change doesn’t mean schools that surpass the 2% COVID-19 benchmark are off the hook or no longer have to take steps to get a handle on infection rates. Rather, if local school boards choose, they may instead tap the remote-learning option, at least through the end of January, the period covered by Thursday’s announcement.

“Because of the number of schools severely impacted by this surge, it has become necessary to provide flexibility to allow certain schools to pivot temporarily to remote learning under this statutory exception,” the message from Cox and the other officials reads.

Findlay, the Weber School District spokesperson, expressed a measure of relief in response to Thursday’s announcement.

“Yes, it’s welcomed news considering the concerns over implementing test-to-stay,” he said. Jeff Stephens, the district superintendent, is reviewing the changes and will be discussing the new guidance with school board officials.

At any rate, the number of COVID-19 cases ebbs and flows from day to day, Findlay said. He also noted the recent change in isolation and quarantine guidelines for those who contract the COVID-19 virus or are in contact with someone who’s infected. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the recommended isolation and quarantine periods from 10 to five days and state officials have followed suit.

“It has made it a little bit complicated now that everything doesn’t align,” Findlay said.

Within the Ogden School District, Ogden High School has the most COVID-19 cases, 19 of them, according to the Utah Department of Health. Because the school has fewer than 1,500 students, it would be required to take action per SB 107 when the active case count rises to 30.

Within the Davis School District, there are 199 COVID-19 cases at Viewmont High School in Bountiful, 14.3% of the student body. The counts also surpass SB 107 thresholds at Davis, Layton, Syracuse, Clearfield, Farmington, Northridge, Woods Cross and Bountiful high schools and at Farmington, Fairfield, South Davis, West Point and Kaysville junior high schools.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the number of the 2021 legislative measure outlining when schools have to take steps to deal with rising COVID-19 case numbers. The measure is Senate Bill 107.

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