Durango School District 9-R has seen 11 COVID-19 cases among students since classes began Aug. 24.
The cases do not represent an outbreak: The students caught the coronavirus in the community – not in school, said Heidi McMillan, medical director for the school district.
“(The transmission rate) is three times higher than we want it to be, but we’re going to reflect where the community is,” McMillan said. “There’s no in-school transmission yet.”
On Tuesday, the school board reviewed district, local, state and national COVID-19 transmission numbers.
The Durango School District reported a one-week incidence rate of 95 cases per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, McMillan said.
“In the district, we have a whole host of unvaccinated individuals in one place,” McMillan said. “The fact that we can be lower than the county is evidence that the mitigation strategies are working.”
The district’s goal is fewer than 35 cases per 100,000 people in one week.
At that point, the district can change its mitigation strategies. For example, only symptomatic people would be tested for COVID-19, instead of opt-in weekly surveillance testing by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The district would encourage masking. During higher transmission periods, like now, the district relies on public health advisories, which currently recommend requiring masks.
Vaccinations are key to keeping case rates low, McMillan said.
Unvaccinated people are more likely than vaccinated people to contract COVID-19 as the doubly contagious delta variant spreads La Plata County.
“I can’t overemphasize vaccination. If we could really get our vaccination (rates) up, it would really help with this,” she said.
The district has emphasized in-person learning for students.
Board members considered examples from other states, where school districts have relied on various public health measures to control the spread of COVID-19.
A layered mitigation strategy – using multiple practices such as masking, testing and contact tracing – is shown to yield the greatest success in achieving in-person learning, McMillan said.
The district will need to continue monitoring transmission data to inform its public health practices, she said.
“Basically, we’re (the county) still in a high transmission rate, but we’re doing better than many parts of the county or the country,” she said. “We’re not out of the woods.”
The Durango school board expects to hear regular COVID-19 updates during its board meetings to monitor the spread of the virus and adjust mitigation measures when appropriate.