Boulder Schools Change Course to Cope with COVID-19

After a month’s absence, Boulder County health officials updated Boulder City Council last night on how COVID-19 is affecting the community. KGNU’s Roz Brown reports that they also received details on an abrupt change in plans for how local schools will operate this fall.

Listen to the report:

(Download Audio)

Boulder County dropped back down into single digit cases of COVD-19 on Monday, after an 18-day streak of double-digit cases. So far the county has reported 1,969 cases of the virus, with 500 cases in July – the largest number of cases reported in one month. Boulder County Public Health Executive Director Jeff Zayach nonetheless said the county has a positivity rate below five-percent.

“If we can maintain less than a five-percent positivity rate that means we’re doing enough testing to assure that we’re catching positives and can control spread of the disease,” said Zayach. “We have remained below four-percent for quite awhile, and we can meet the capacity of 500 tests per day.”

One thing local officials can’t control is turnaround time for testing results – which Zayach says has been as much as 10 days – too long to do effective case investigation or contact tracing. He says those between the ages of 20-29 have the highest rate of infection, but hospitalizations and death are primarily associated with those over the age of 70. Zayach also said local health officials are increasingly worried about the spread of COVID in the Latinx community.

“We’re hiring a bilingual communications specialist because we need to be able support this community in a way we’re not doing now,” said Zayach.

In a reversal of earlier plans, Superintendent Rob Anderson told city council the Boulder Valley School District will start the school year with online learning only, instead of the previously announced mix of in-person and online classes. The St.Vrain Valley School District will follow a similar schedule. Anderson said it became clear that because so many teachers are high-risk, there wouldn’t be enough educators to operate more than 50 schools starting on August 24.

“So we had roughly 30 percent of our teachers qualify for high-risk, which means they’re exempt from working in person,” said Anderson.

Online learning will last until at least September 22, but Anderson said it can’t continue indefinitely.

“We just need more time to work out logistics, but enrollment is a big factor for us,” said Anderson. “For every 100 students who show up or don’t show up that equates to $1 million in funding.”

Anderson believes the decision on how to teach kids during the pandemic is the most complicated problem public education has ever faced. And added that many families will be struggling.

“I am concerned that families will begin to suffer from situational poverty which is a different type of poverty,” he said. “It’s one thing to have been poor and adjust to that but it’s different to go from not being poor to poor, and we will have to make sure our counselors have their eyes on those kids.”

Also last night, City Council agreed to continue virtual meetings due to COVID-19 through October but also will hold a listening session on August 19 to take feedback from citizens about the benefits and challenges of virtual public participation.