ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — School officials in Alaska have implemented a new policy requiring masks at sporting events last week in response to coronavirus outbreaks at a half-dozen Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District schools.
Three large high schools in the district — Colony, Palmer, Wasilla — are among five facilities currently closed because of the outbreaks, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday. It is unclear when they are expected to reopen.
Public health officials say some of the confirmed COVID-19 cases started with students mixing at school lunches, but most are attributed to extracurricular activities, including sports.
The district last week allowed activities to briefly resume but with a 100% mask requirement indoors. Previously, athletes could remove masks during vigorous activity.
Claudia Blydenburgh, assistant principal and activities director at Joe Redington Sr. Junior/Senior High School, said student-athletes would rather wear the masks than not participate.
“Coaches, athletes and families, overwhelmingly that’s the take that they have on it – that they would much rather see activities going with masks than everything being canceled,” Blydenburgh said.
The Mat-Su Borough School District earlier this month saw five schools shift to remote learning as more COVID-19 cases were reported. Officials reported 176 cases over the past two weeks, including about 25 each at Colony middle and high schools and 34 at Pioneer Peak Elementary.
It is unclear how many people have been considered close contacts and asked to quarantine. District nurse Rene Dillow estimated that an average of 10 people a case is a “reasonable” number, meaning about 1,760 employees and students would be considered close contacts.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Anchorage and Fairbanks started returning to limited in-person school last month, officials said.
The Anchorage School District on Friday had five elementary school classrooms that temporarily shifted to remote learning due to COVID-19 cases. The district reported 723 COVID-19 cases since September with 42 active cases.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District had no closures. It reported 232 COVID-19 cases since the start of the year with 17 active cases.