“We are committed to doing all we can to keep schools open”[ by Kendra Walker ]
With the holiday season quickly approaching and a new surge of COVID cases in the county, the Gunnison Watershed School District is asking families to consider not traveling based on the county’s travel recommendations, with the hopes of keeping in-person learning in place.
District superintendent Leslie Nichols sent out a video message to district families and students last week, addressing the growing concerns of the community traveling in and out of the county for the holidays, and assured that the schools remain the safest place for students at this time.
“You’re likely aware that the Gunnison Valley is experiencing a surge in COVID cases along with the rest of the state and the country,” Nichols said. “The school district is not experiencing this same surge. From November 1 to November 9, the county identified 70 positive cases; only 4 percent (three cases) were among district students and staff. As of today, we continue to have no cases of spread within our schools, meaning that students or staff who contract COVID have been exposed outside of school.”
The district has experienced 11 total positive cases since school started on August 26, with none of the transmissions happening within the school.
“Please, I urge you, to strongly consider not traveling,” said Nichols. “I understand there may be reasons that is not possible, but if at all possible please stay home.”
Gunnison County recommends a seven-day self-isolation following travel for more than 24 hours outside of the county. “We do enforce quarantine when people within our schools are identified as close contacts with a positive… with this travel recommendation, it really is a personal choice how you manage the recommendation,” Nichols said regarding whether schools will enforce the travel recommendations.
Nichols also said that it will be safer to keep students in school in person, rather than go to remote learning between the Thanksgiving and winter holidays. “Schools are a safe place for kids and for our staff because transmission rates at schools are exceptionally low (and to date, non-existent in our schools). If we close, over 2,000 kids and staff will be moving through the community instead of being at school where our risk reduction tools are being practiced. If we close, we could actually make a post-Thanksgiving increase in COVID cases worse.”
Nichols stated why in-person learning is the best situation for the community: learning happens best in-person; school is a safe environment with risk reduction tools in place; parents can continue working with children in school; and businesses stay open and keep the economy healthy.
“For these reasons and more, we are committed to doing all we can to keep schools open,” she said.
“Choose not to travel if at all possible,” Nichols reiterated. “Travel is a common factor in positive cases in the Gunnison Valley. Spread can happen with close friends in situations like dinner parties, game nights, play dates, sleepovers and carpools—all situations when people are indoors, in close proximity and not wearing masks. Also remember the basics when you’re in the community: masks work, so wear them; wash your hands; be outside as much as possible when with others; and keep your distance.”