Citing “minimal reporting” of student COVID-19 cases and a continued high rate of new cases in Arapahoe County and across Colorado, Cherry Creek School District announced that online, or remote, classes will continue for the rest of the fall semester.
“My hope is that by communicating this plan today, teachers can focus on consistent routines and students can have uninterrupted learning for the next three weeks,” Superintendent Scott Siegfried wrote in a message to the community. It was posted to the district’s website as of Dec. 2.
The district leader’s message appeared to say Cherry Creek is not receiving adequate information about students’ COVID-19 cases.
“We are unable to operate schools” partly for that reason and partly due to high rates of new cases in the county and the state, Siegfried wrote.
Arapahoe County’s rate of new cases in the past two weeks is 957 per 100,000 people — far beyond the threshold that qualifies a county for “level red” on the state’s COVID-19 dial of restrictions on businesses and citizens. The line to cross into that level is 350 new cases per 100,000 people over two weeks, a measure known as a county’s “incidence rate.”
The rate of recorded COVID-19 deaths began to increase in Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties in late October, according to data from Tri-County Health Department, which serves the three counties. Deaths over the course of November outpaced the numbers the counties typically saw from the start of summer to late October.
Level red took effect in counties with severe enough virus spread — including Denver metro counties and other regions of the state — on Nov. 20. It prohibits indoor dining and personal gatherings and tightened capacity limits on some types of businesses.
Cherry Creek district is working with the district’s teachers’ union “and other groups to develop a plan for returning to in-person learning in January,” Siegfried’s message said. “I will continue to send you updates as I have new information.”
The district has temporarily stopped posting daily ratings on its “COVID Tracker,” which records the severity of the coronavirus’s spread in the school district and throughout the county using a point system. The pause comes because the district will continue remote classes through December, Siegfried wrote.
The district uses the four-part system of tracking local virus data to determine whether it will hold classes in-person or entirely online. It includes Arapahoe County’s rate of COVID-19 tests that come back positive; the county’s hospitalizations; its daily case count; its “incidence rate,” which is another way to measure new cases; and the number of active cases among staff and among students in the school district.
Each of the six data pieces entails a score of up to 2 points, so each day’s total score can be up to 12 points.
If the points are 7 or greater, it means the district deems it safe to continue in-person class. If it’s 5 or fewer, the metric suggests moving to entirely online class. Only a “sustained seven- to 14-day change” can cause the district to move into or out of in-person classes, according to the district. One or a few days in a row of any score doesn’t cause a change.
On Nov. 5, the district scored a 3 amid a downward trend in the score that began in late October. That’s the day the district announced that all students who attend in-person classes would move to online classes.
With students out of school, the tracker began to inch back up, recording a 7 on Nov. 27, for example.
The public can still view data on the virus’s spread in general throughout Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties on Tri-County Health Department’s website at data.tchd.org/covid19.
“Based on our first-semester experience, we have a greater chance of operating successfully the closer the incident rate (rate of new cases) is to 500 cases per 100,000 people” per two weeks, Siegfried wrote.
Siegfried’s message said the district’s data has “consistently shown that transmission of the virus does not happen in schools in any meaningful way.”
John Douglas, head of Tri-County Health Department, said in October that it’s “quite striking” how few recorded cases there have been in schools.
“What we can say is the following: We look pretty carefully at cases of new infection by age group,” Douglas told Colorado Community Media at the time, as Arapahoe County’s rate of cases grew more concerning. “New infections are going up in school-age kids but not as high as in older populations. It’s really people between 20 and late 40s where the increase is.”
That tells him the problem is the spread of the virus in the broader community, not in schools, he added.
Douglas noted the district’s low percentage of cases at the time. But he acknowledged that asymptomatic transmission of the virus is a possibility.
“At least based on the best ability we have to quantify it,” in-person class doesn’t appear to be increasing community transmission, Douglas said at the time.
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