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Montezuma-Cortez schools limit tracing of COVID cases

The Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 is no longer tracking COVID-19 cases, district administration announced Sunday evening. In this May 11, 2020 file photo photo, Salt Lake County Health Department public health nurse Lee Cherie Booth demonstrates contact tracing training. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Letter reportedly written with school board president’s guidance; Southwest Health notes highest positivity rate since onset of pandemic

Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 will limit tracing of COVID-19 cases amid the fast-spreading omicron variant, “school administration” announced in a letter Sunday afternoon.

The move to suspend contact notifications comes the week after Southwest Health System recorded the highest test positivity rate since the onset of the pandemic, according to Marc Meyer, director of pharmacy services and infection control.

Contact tracing is “no longer possible the way we’ve been doing it,” the letter from the school district said, because of lags in test result reporting, spikes in cases and “our district’s need to have staff focus on filling shortages to prioritize in-person learning.”

The letter advised families and staff that they should assume that they are exposed to the virus each day.

Families will no longer be notified if their children might have been exposed to an individual positive for COVID-19, the letter said.

In a follow-up phone call Tuesday, RE-1 Health Services Director Jaclyn Hall said the district was still tracking cases, but declined to elaborate.

On its website, the RE-1 district lists current active COVID-19 cases per school:

  • Beech Street Preschool: 0
  • Kemper Elementary: 8
  • Lewis-Arriola Elementary: 3
  • Manaugh Elementary: 1
  • Mesa Elementary: 3
  • Montezuma-Cortez High School: 11
  • Montezuma-Cortez Middle School: 11
  • Pleasant View Elementary: 0
  • Staff: 4

The district encouraged the school community to stay home when sick and outlined suggested COVID-19 protocol including masking, social distancing, testing, disinfecting, monitoring for symptoms, and getting vaccinated.

The letter was signed “Montezuma-Cortez School District Administration.“

However, Debra Ramsey, executive assistant to the superintendent, said Monday afternoon that the letter was written by Hall, with guidance from Board of Education President Sheri Noyes.

Ramsey emailed the letter.

Superintendent Risha VanderWey was placed on paid administrative leave Friday, according to an emailed announcement Monday from Noyes. Noyes’ letter stated that an unidentified “quorum of highly qualified administrative staff members” would fulfill VanderWey’s duties. Assistant Superintendent Elisabeth A. Richard resigned Jan. 4 on disability leave.

In the district, mask wearing is optional.

Marc Meyer, director of pharmacy services and infection control at Southwest Health System, said in-house line swab tests produce relatively quick results, in anywhere from two to 12 hours.

The Montezuma County Health Department, Meyer said, manages the results from state-sponsored free tests, which are shipped to California for analysis.

Montezuma County Public Health Director Bobbi Lock was not immediately available by phone Monday afternoon.

As of Monday afternoon, 16 of 20 Southwest Memorial hospital beds were full, and five of the beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, Meyer said.

For the week beginning Jan. 17 and ending Friday, Southwest Memorial saw a 38.5% positivity rate out of about 300 tests – the highest percentage yet for the hospital, Meyer said.

From Jan. 14 to Friday, Montezuma County charted 300 new COVID-19 cases, according to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data.

Since the start of the pandemic, 21 Montezuma County residents have died because of COVID-19, and 60 have died with the virus in their system, according to CDPHE.

Meyer recommended vaccines and masking when out and about in the community.

Referring to a recent study from the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Meyer said that data reflects individuals having received booster shots are less likely to contract, become hospitalized from or die from COVID-19.

That study, released Friday, sourced data from 25 U.S. jurisdictions, sampled from April 4 through Dec. 25 amid the prominence of the delta and omicron variants.

Study data exclusively from December shows that out of 1,987,683 evaluated cases of COVID-19, about 53.4% were in unvaccinated individuals, about 40.3% were in fully vaccinated individuals and about 6.3% were in those who had received booster shots.

The study included preliminary data for COVID-19-associated deaths during the emergence of omicron from the first week of December. Unvaccinated individuals accounted for about 76.6% of 2,912 evaluated deaths, while vaccinated individuals comprised about 23.4% of the deaths. Data was not broken down for those who received booster shots.

From October to November, when delta reigned as the primary variant, about 62.3% of 1,779,072 study cases were in unvaccinated individuals. Fully vaccinated individuals represented about 36.6 % of the cases, and about 1.1% of the cases were in boosted individuals.

In that same period, about 74.1% of 22,305 studied COVID-19-associated deaths were in unvaccinated individuals, about 24.6% in fully vaccinated individuals and about 1.3% in boosted individuals.

“That’s pretty telltale numbers to me,” Meyer said.

This article will be updated when additional information becomes available.