Mt. Edgecumbe student tests positive for coronavirus, prompting campus lockdown

A rid school building with an american flag on top
Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka (KCAW/Emily Kwong)

Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka briefly locked down and quarantined around 25 students, after another student at the state-run boarding school tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this week.

Superintendent Janelle Vanasse said the positive case on campus prompted the school to shift into a ‘temporary red’ alert level. 

“That means we kind of just have kids stay put in their dorm rooms, like a dorm wide quarantine,” she said. “Teachers were teaching from their classroom but students were accessing education from their dorm room. That gave us the time to do the contact tracing and work with public health nursing and identify other students who made close contact.

Vanasse said they determined which students had close contact with the student who tested positive, tested those students, and set them up in quarantine quarters.

After they’d concluded the initial contact tracing and all of the quarantined students’ initial test results came back negative on Tuesday evening (9-29-20), the remaining students were allowed back in the classroom on Wednesday.  And the campus returned to a ‘moderate’ alert level.

Vanasse said classrooms look a little different when they’re in the ‘orange’ level.

“Kids are pretty much restricted to be on campus with no visitors. But at an orange level, you are allowed to go to class,” she said. “We have asked teachers to shift back to more of a higher alert as far as the mitigations in their classrooms. We have spacing as best we can in our classrooms. To start with, we have a pretty robust routine of sanitizing between each class. And we do have teachers separated into a teaching station or teaching bubble.”

Regular testing is built into the school’s plan– groups of students are tested in weekly waves, with all students being tested at least once a month, on average.Vanasse said she’s thankful to the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) and the state health department for helping with the response on campus. She says, like any school, MEHS staff are learning as they go and changing pieces of their mitigation plan as needed, but overall, their plan seems to be working.

“As you know, we had the initial cases at the start of the year, and we were able to not have any campus spread from that,” she said. “And, we now have this test result and, so far, it appears that we don’t have any campus spread. So from a standpoint of mitigation, we’re really pleased that our mitigation plan seems to be working.” 

The students in quarantine will remain there 14 days, attending classes virtually, and will be tested two more times before they can return to class. 

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