Utah County high school shifts students to online part time after new ‘cluster’ as COVID-19 cases drop statewide

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students leave Pleasant Grove High school on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015.

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Pleasant Grove High School in Utah County will close temporarily and then shift to a hybrid schedule this week — mixing online and in-person classes — after reporting “a cluster” of coronavirus cases.

The move was announced Monday by Alpine School District, the largest in the state. But spokeswoman Kimberly Bird declined to say how many infections had prompted it.

“There’s an area within Pleasant Grove that’s impacting our numbers,” she said. “We’ve got to move in connection to the cases that are identified.”

Overall, Bird would confirm only that the district currently has 67 active cases over its 91 schools; of those, 41 are students and 26 are faculty.

Still, shifting to a hybrid schedule is one of the biggest outbreak reactions yet from a public K-12 school in Utah since most reopened earlier this month. According to the state’s guidelines, it takes three students with COVID-19 in a classroom to go entirely online again or 15 schoolwide.

Alpine School District had welcomed back about 93% of its students in person, under a normal schedule, five days a week.

Now, Pleasant Grove High School will close for two days, according to the letter sent to parents. When it reopens Thursday, students will be split into two groups. They will attend alternating days in person, such as Monday and Wednesday for one group, while doing the other days online.

Bird said the hope is to reduce the number of kids in the building at one time. But, she added, officials wanted to try to keep students in school as much as possible, so the district has decided not to go entirely remote yet. The shift starts Thursday. Sports will not be impacted.

The hope is to return to the original schedule of in-person classes when the number of cases goes down.

In the meantime, Pleasant Grove will be providing free COVID-19 testing for residents Wednesday from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Thursday from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. That will be held in the parking lot of the city’s outdoor pool at 582 E. 300 South.

Since Utah public schools began opening Aug. 13, they have reported nine outbreaks affecting 62 patients, with one of those new outbreaks and seven new cases reported in the past day.

From the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 107 patients infected in 20 school outbreaks, with an average age of 19. Six of those patients have been hospitalized; none has died.

Overall, with 253 new coronavirus cases reported Monday, Utah’s rate of new diagnoses held steady after an increase over the weekend, and it stayed under the governor’s target of less than 400 cases per day.

Utah’s death toll from the coronavirus stood at 407 on Monday, the same as Sunday.

For the past seven days, Utah has averaged 388 new positive test results per day, the Utah Department of Health reported Monday. Gov. Gary Herbert had said he wanted the state to get below 400 new cases per day by Sept. 1.

Hospitalizations were up slightly Monday, with 125 Utah patients concurrently admitted, UDOH reported. On average, 120 patients have been receiving treatment in Utah hospitals each day for the past week, continuing a decline from the peak average of 211 patients hospitalized each day at the end of July

In total, 3,093 patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up 13 from Sunday.

The rate of tests with positive results was at 8.9% on Monday, down slightly from Sunday’s 9.1%. State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn has said a 3% positivity rate would indicate the virus is under control.

Statewide, Utah’s rate of positive tests has been above 5% since May 25, according to UDOH data.

There were 4,348 new test results reported Monday, below the weeklong average of 4,786 new tests per day.

Of 52,107 Utahns who have tested positive for COVID-19, 43,990 are considered “recovered” — that is, they have survived for at least three weeks after being diagnosed.