4 Alaska schools in Seward area close due to Covid-19

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New COVID-19 cases confirmed in a Seward school and two Mat-Su elementary schools, combined with recent surge in cases in the community, have prompted the closure of several schools around Seward starting Friday.

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District spokeswoman Pegge Erkeneff said on Thursday night that effective from Friday morning, four schools in its Eastern Peninsula region will be closed.

Erkeneff was unable to specify whether the new case involved a student or staff member at a Seward school.

According to her, the surge in the number of cases in the Seward area is bumping the schools over the high-risk threshold.

She added that district had announced the possibility of a closure earlier Thursday to give families time to prepare, explaining at that time that if schools close, the closure would last for at least a week so students and families don’t “ping-pong back and forth.”

Since opening for the school year, the Kenai Peninsula district had seen seven positive cases among staff and four positive cases among students, Erkeneff said earlier Thursday.

Homer High School’s football program, involving a total of 40 people, is currently under a 14-day quarantine, she said.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is broken up into three areas including Eastern, Southern and Central which began the year with 19 Central schools online-only, but two weeks later, cases in the region dropped and classes resumed in-person.

Also, a case at Seward Elementary School temporarily closed the school in September, adding to the increasing number of cases in the state over the last few weeks.

On Thursday the state reported its 15th consecutive day of more than 100 new cases, pushing an elementary school in Fairbanks this week to announce a temporary closure after confirming five positive COVID-19 cases in a two-week span.

In Mat-Su, Swanson Elementary School and Sherrod Elementary School in Palmer dismissed students early Thursday after they were notified of a positive case in each school involving two individuals from the same family, according to Jillian Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District.

Morrissey said that contact tracing is ongoing at both schools, though as of Thursday evening, Morrissey was unsure if the schools would be closed Friday.

Several schools in the Mat-Su Borough have closed temporarily due to virus cases with dozens of people in quarantine over the last several weeks, though building closures have been brief.

Colony High School in Palmer also closed temporarily this week after a case of COVID-19 was identified in the school, but a Mat-Su health official said that there is no evidence of student-to-student spread at this point.

Dr. Liz Ohlsen, a staff physician at the state’s Division of Public Health, said “it is a testament to how well school districts have done in implementing mitigation efforts” because school districts had already been open for more than a month.

So far this school year, the Mat-Su school district has reported a total of 18 cases of COVID-19, with 17 cases at 13 schools and one case in an administrative building.

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