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Coronavirus cases increasing in Southwest Idaho schools: 'We're starting to see quite a bit of concern'

School districts have quarantined hundreds of students and staff members after possible exposure to the virus.

BOISE, Idaho — COVID-19 cases are popping up in Southwest Idaho schools, forcing hundreds of students and staff into quarantine.

Southwest District Health covers six different counties: Owyhee, Canyon, Payette, Gem, Washington, and Adams.  

Between those counties, more than 300 students and staff members are in quarantine after exposure to COVID-19. Some of those students are in the Emmett School District.

The district is reporting its first confirmed case of COVID-19 among students. Two more students are considered probable. 19 students are quarantined due to these cases.

The cases are at the high school, and to play it safe, the district canceled classes at the high school on Friday.

“It was a safety precaution not only for our students but also for our staff,” Superintendent Craig Woods said.

The district isn’t canceling classes at any other school though. 

“We do a pretty good job of [contact] tracing all of our probables, anyone who may be suspected [of being infected],” Woods said. "So when we looked at it, our numbers were increasing in the high school and so we thought let’s focus there. Our students at the elementary have been doing really well, we thought let’s see where we’re at based on that.”

The district will be cleaning and disinfecting the building over the three-day weekend. During that time, there will be no activities held inside the building, but athletic activities will be taking place outside.

In Owyhee County, more than 200 students and staff are in quarantine. A large portion of that comes from the Marsing School District. The superintendent there told KTVB that one secondary staff member tested positive.

Two students and another staff member are probable cases. However, because of these cases, grades 3-5 are learning from home until Sept. 30. The district picked these three grades because they broke students up by class when they had to stay inside due to excessive smoke the last couple weeks.

The district couldn’t track down who exactly had contact with the two probable cases, so they picked all three grades to be safe.

In Canyon County, 11 students and staff who tested positive for COVID-19 are in isolation. Another 107 though are in quarantine. SWDH said in a press release that multiple schools in Canyon County are seeing sporadic, imported cases of COVID-19 with no known outbreaks.

In Payette County, five students and staff members combined have a confirmed case with another 13 in quarantine. According to SWDH, multiple Payette County schools are seeing cluster outbreaks occurring within the schools.

In Washington County, the health district said that schools are not currently seeing any cases within their schools. Although, some students are in quarantine due to family exposure.

The situation is going well in Adams County. It's the only county in SWDH's "gray" category, which means there is little to no community spread of the virus. So far, the county has not seen any confirmed COVID-19 cases in schools.

Over in Central District Health's region, the picture in schools isn’t a whole lot better. Gina Pannell is a program manager for the district and a school liaison. She said cases have been increasing since schools re-opened.

“We have over 55 schools where COVID has been presented to them whether it be a student or staff,” she said.

Central District Health covers four counties: Ada, Elmore, Boise and Valley. The increase in cases is concerning to Pannell since the largest school districts haven’t fully re-opened yet to in-person learning.

“The pace that we're seeing with many of our biggest districts not fully in-person yet is not sustainable as is,” she said.

Across the four counties, roughly 250 students and staff are in quarantine.

“That's a very high number and could quickly turn us into a case rate that puts us back in category 3,” Pannell said. "We're starting to see quite a bit of concern."

Some of those cases are linked to the Glenn’s Ferry School District. The district is now closed until October 6. This means students will be remote learning for the next two weeks.

The district said multiple people tested positive for COVID-19, didn't give a specific number.

Pannell's advice to both families and schools is to reduce the number of people you’re around.

“If your child is exposed in a school setting and does become infectious, is it an additional basketball team, is it additional family members, is it a BBQ, is it some of these social activities we're seeing outside and we're seeing multiple contacts again for individual cases,” she said.

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