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After 3 Days Of School, Bethel Students Enter Quarantine Following Close COVID Contact

A year after the Kilbuck fire, Ayaprun has turned the vacant grocery store area of the Kipusvik building into a school. Nov. 2016.
Anna Rose MacArthur

Less than a week into the school year, Bethel students in two different schools are in quarantine and back to remote learning after a student in each of the two schools tested positive for COVID-19. The move between in-person and remote learning in quarantine is likely to continue through the school year.

Two Bethel elementary schools, Ayaprun Elitnaurvik and Mikelnguut Elitnaurviat, both opened for the new semester, in person, on Aug. 11.

“Overall, I'm happy to say that things went pretty smoothly, and there weren't a lot of hiccups along the way,” Lower Kuskokwim School District Superintendent Kimberly Hankins said, describing the district-wide reopening.

But just a few days later, approximately 20 students between both Bethel elementary schools were not able to return to the classroom in person for the second week of school. None of the students are old enough to get vaccinated. So when students at both schools tested positive for COVID-19, all the close contacts were told to quarantine and move to remote learning.

The COVID-19 testing was done outside the schools. The quarantine period for all the close contact students will last 14 days; the students who tested positive will be required to isolate for 10 days in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and LKSD.

Under those guidelines, fully vaccinated people do not need to quarantine after being in close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus unless they’re living in the same household. Vaccinations are authorized for everyone age 12 and up.

Too young for the shots, the Bethel students identified as close contacts have to stay home.

Hankins said that the school district prepared for this situation. LKSD wrote a 32-page document of COVID-19 procedures. With COVID-19 cases rising in the region, Hankins expects more students and staff to have to transition between in-person and remote learning, due to quarantine.

“I think we will see this. We will have COVID cases. We will have close contacts, and so I think it's best to prepare so you know what to expect when those things happen. We certainly do aim to keep our schools open this school year, but it's going to take all of us working together to make sure we're following all the mitigation strategies,” Hankins said.

One of the most important strategies, she said, is for anyone who is feeling sick with any symptoms to stay home. Bethel schools will regularly test those students for the virus whose parents have signed a consent form.

“We will be testing every week in Bethel schools, pulling a different sample of the student population with those signed permission forms, trying to pull students from a variety of classrooms every day so we really get a large sample group. So we can try to identify any positive cases,” Hankins said.

Students at all LKSD schools will be tested for the virus on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

All LKSD schools are holding in-person learning except for two schools in Kasigluk after the community entered a COVID-19 lockdown the week of Aug. 9.

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