DC 50J school bus and covid-19 sign Paonia 2020

A Delta County school bus in Paonia advertising the need for bus drivers sits a few feet away from a damaged sign reminding the community to wear masks. Delta County School District 50J recently moved to Safer-at-Home Level 2 protocols. 

By Lisa Young

Staff writer

Delta County School District 50J moves to Safer-at-Home Level 2 prior to the upcoming Thanksgiving break Nov. 23-27. The announcement to dial back to the “concern” level was made by Superintendent Caryn Gibson on Nov. 10 via social media and the school’s website.

In recent weeks, Delta County has seen a significant increase in COVID-19 cases causing the county health department to post an alert on its COVID-19 dashboard. On Sunday, Nov.15, the health department reported 354 positive cases with 122 active cases.

One day before Gibson announced the changes, the county reported 277 positive cases with a positive test rate of 7.14%. While not confirmed by the school, it was estimated that five to seven students had contracted the virus. The school district does not disclose its case numbers.

“We believe the people who are exposed and directly affected need to know about exposure and cases. Because of HIPPA policies, we try to protect the identities of students and staff involved in possible infections. The small size of our schools and communities makes it increasingly difficult to protect those identities. Cases are reported through the Delta County website,” the superintendent said.

According to the county COVID dashboard, as of Nov. 15, positive cases for both females and males ages 0-9 represent 1.13% of all cases and females 10-17 represents 1.69%. Males ages 10-17 are the hardest hit representing 3.11% of all county cases. Females ages 45-54 have the highest positivity at 9.6%. (COVID-19 cases change on a daily bases, please consult the health department for up-to-date numbers.)

“2020 continues to be a very interesting year with COVID and the uncertainty that surrounds the virus pandemic,” Gibson said in the school-produced video. “We are doing everything we can to keep all of our students and staff safe, while maintaining in-person learning. We believe the best place for our students to learn is in the classroom with our outstanding teachers.”

The biggest change in the district’s Safer-at-Home Level 2 has to do with students quarantining due to illness. According to the new guidelines, students with symptoms lasting longer than 48 hours must stay home for 10 days unless they have a confirmed negative PCR test.

In the area of transportation, the district is requiring all sixth through 12th grade students to bring and wear a mask while riding the bus while all kindergarten through fifth grade are strongly encouraged to bring and wear a mask while on the bus.

At school sixth through 12th grade students are required to bring and wear a mask when in the school building at all times including when seated during instruction.

All pre-K through fifth grade students are strongly encouraged to bring and wear a mask while in the school building. The latest policy reflects a change due to the growing number of COVID cases countywide.

“So far this school year we have been extremely fortunate to have a very limited number of cases in our schools,” Gibson said.“We understand that wearing a mask is difficult for some of our students, but feel it is a responsible thing to do so we can keep our students safely in the classroom, learning and growing. Again, our goal is to maintain in-person learning for all our students for the remainder of the year.”

She said that while the pandemic continues to be unsettling and challenging for schools and communities, the district works diligently in collaboration with the health department to monitor local health conditions.

“We value our working relationship with the Delta County Health Department to monitor COVID cases within our school district and if needed to quarantine students, staff, cohorts, and/or schools to maintain the health and safety of our school communities. At this time, we plan to continue in-person learning at all levels of instruction and operations,” Gibson told the DCI on Monday.

The superintendent thanked the community for following all the appropriate health protocols, including maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask, and frequently washing hands, and limiting social gatherings to your household.

She said that when a symptomatic or a positive COVID case is identified, the exposed individuals are notified and required to follow quarantine guidelines as the school district strictly adheres to the health standards and guidelines set forth by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

“At this time, we feel the best place for student learning is in our schools with the support and guidance of our staff. In the event we would need to transition to a hybrid or distance learning model at any of our Delta County Schools, we will give advance notice and we are confident that our staff will be prepared to support our students through their education,” Gibson said.

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