How are Sanpete schools coping with COVID?
FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES
By Rhett Wilkinson
Sanpete County school districts are following all state guidelines while coping with COVID-19.
This includes working under Gov. Gary Herbert’s pandemic-related mandate to wear masks in schools and other indoor settings, as well as outdoor areas where social distancing is not manageable.
Sanpete County has been designated a high risk area and Gov. Herbert issued new mandates on Oct. 13.
Nan Ault, superintendent for the North Sanpete School District, believes that overall, schools in her district have “worked to maintain their safety routines.”
“Even though we do have a few cases that knock on our door and we deal with those safely and promptly, we still have school,” Ault said. “We are just really grateful. And a lot of it has to do with our ability to run a routine … [we’re] appreciative of everybody’s help because that is what is keeping things open.”
Ault noted that what students do in their home matters to health at the schools, saying that most cases in the district are a result of COVID-19 being transmitted from home.
“We can’t control what happens outside the school,” Ault said.
School districts are coordinating together to operate under a guide called the COVID-19 School Manual that is part of the Utah State Board of Education in coordination with the Utah Department of Health, Ault said.
When Herbert makes orders, Utah State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson gives superintendents instructions, Ault said.
“So our instructions are really word-for-word under the state,” Ault said. “So we just coordinate together and carry on.”
Herbert’s mask mandate has not changed what Ault has done in her schools because a protocol is in place as found in the COVID-19 manual, Ault said.
Ault then said that “as we move forward and the state continues to be in crisis, we may get more from the state office of education … but right now, that COVID manual is really our Bible. That’s really how we conduct ourselves right now.”
Kerry Coates, head custodian at the North Sanpete High School, spoke to precautions he has taken, adding that precautions are uniform throughout the district’s schools.
Coates called custodian managers in large school districts in New York, one of the hardest-hit areas by the pandemic in the nation, to learn about how the managers handled miscues.
“They are going to make the mistakes early on,” Coates said.
After speaking with them, the district put personal protective equipment, gloves and masks in place, getting them before school started.
Every classroom has one-gallon and pint-sized hand sanitizers, Coates said.
“I’d have to do some serious math to determine how many gallons of hand sanitizer we have gone through,” Coates said.
Coates said “high-touch” areas are disinfected and xxtra desks and chairs have been removed from classrooms.
“With only a five-minute window, we can’t do it all,” Coates said, referring to the time between classes. Also, the custodians don’t know where the students have sat, Coates said.
However, the custodians sanitize the restrooms and stalls between every class period, Coates said.
Coates said all the computer labs are wiped down by teachers. Students will be in the hallway before the bell rings because teachers are staggering the students.
While there is a plan that students can eat in a few select classrooms, lunch is served in an auxiliary gym with a total capacity of 350, Coates said.
“It’s all we can accommodate at one time,” he said.
There are 747 students in the NSHS building, according to NSHS staff.
NSHS has a room where suspected COVID-19 patients are kept in isolation.
“We can’t have extra rooms lying around the building when we are operating at max capacity,” Coates said.
Ralph Squire, superintendent of the South Sanpete School District, said that while the district was on the moderate level, it was “already meeting most of the criteria that are being asked for the high level [of transmission].”
The district is emphasizing masks “because people become complacent,” Squire said.
Squire noted that teachers and administrators were trained for education, not to be “mask police.”
“We have people who are against masks and it’s been a difficult road for us,” Squire said. “We’ve been called all sorts of names.”
Even recently, the district has gotten emails and phone calls with complaints. Squire calls it a “challenge.”
“Nobody likes masks, but we’re the ones who has to somewhat enforce it,” Squire said. “But if that’s what it takes to keep our schools open, that’s what we’re doing.”
Squire said the district asks for people to sanitize, requires masks and has contact traced in every school in its jurisdiction while making an effort of getting kids outside. That allows for kids to enjoy the outdoors and take a break from their masks.
A person is 20 times less likely to get COVID-19 outdoors, according to the Utah Department of Health.
“So being outdoors is much better,” Squire said.
Squire said the district holds 14-minute lunches. It does that because “one of the criteria for passing on the virus and quarantine protocol is if someone is in the proximity of a positive case for more than 15 minutes,” Squire said. The lunches are staggered.
“Some kids have been outside; some kids have been in the lunchroom,” Squire said.
“The reality is there has been very little if any COVID that has passed inside schools; almost all of it is coming from homes,” Squire said.
The state health department told Squire that COVID-19 is brought from outside the schools.
“We’ve even actually canceled some of our rotations,” Squire said. “If somebody comes and they test positive, it would create more quarantining of students.”
“It’s amazing what our administrators and our teachers have done,” Squire said. “And our school nurses are absolutely fantastic.”
Squire recently sent a letter to parents from the district’s nurses, Rachel Jensen, Sarah Johnson and Lindsi Barclay. In the letter, nurses say that most exposures are occurring beyond school. The nurses ask parents and guardians in the district to “do all [they] can outside of school to practice good hand hygiene, wear a mask and while in public maintain physical distance.” The nurses also request that children stay home when feeling sick.
That “may feel inconvenient at times, but please keep the broader picture in mind,” the nurses wrote. “Let’s do all we can to keep our children in school, learning, socializing and enjoying the sports and activities they love.”
The nurses also issued a reminder: “If you come to our buildings during the school day or for athletic events after school, please wear a mask while you are here.”