Utah sees its first two schools hit state-designated level for a COVID outbreak this fall

Syracuse Elementary and American Preparatory Academy’s Draper 2 campus will now begin the Test to Stay procedure.

(Google) Syracuse Elementary School in Davis County School District hit the threshold for a COVID-19 outbreak on Sept. 13, 2021.

It took less than a month of classes for the first schools to hit Utah’s state-designated threshold for an outbreak of COVID-19 this fall.

More than 30 kids at Syracuse Elementary in the northern part of the state have tested positive for the virus, according to a notice sent out by Davis School District on Monday morning. And, in a second announcement later Monday, American Preparatory Academy’s Draper 2 campus confirmed more than 30 students there have, as well.

This comes as masks have not been required in K-12 schools in Utah this year. And both schools will now begin testing all students with parent permission for the coronavirus, under the Test to Stay policy instituted by the Utah Legislature.

Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams said classes at Syracuse Elementary will continue as normal on Monday. And the testing will begin Tuesday.

“Every school is going to be a little different in this process,” he said.

But because it is an elementary school, the district has decided that parents who want to be there when their child is tested will have that option and be informed of the time their class will get their nasal swabs. They can choose to do so by calling 801-402-2600 or by emailing mkirkman@dsdmail.net.

“These are small children,” Williams said, “and we want parents to feel comfortable with everything.”

All parents, though, must sign a consent form for their kid to be tested on the district’s online portal. If a parent chooses not to have their child tested or if the student tests positive, they must stay home for 10 days of remote learning. That period will end on Sept. 24 for Syracuse Elementary.

Those who test negative can continue in-person learning, if they have no symptoms of COVID-19.

Staff can participate but are not required to do so.

The threshold was reached when Syracuse Elementary hit 30 cases because it has about 800 students. It opened this year on Aug. 23.

Mariah Bailey last week learned the virus had made its way into her son’s third grade classroom at Syracuse Elementary just before Labor Day weekend.

“We have been sending him to school with a mask and I emailed the principal,” Bailey said. “She said the school’s hands are tied and the only people who can make a change are the parents.”

But not many other kids have been wearing masks, she said.

American Preparatory’s Draper 2 campus, which is a K-6 charter at the south end of Salt Lake County, hit 30 cases and has about 1,200 students. It started a week earlier, on Aug. 18.

The charter will also start testing on Tuesday. And it will hold two video calls with parents Monday, one at 2 p.m. and another at 7 p.m., to answer any questions, according to an email from the school’s Executive Director Carolyn Sharette.

According to state guidelines, schools with fewer than 1,500 students have an outbreak when 30 students test positive. Schools with more than 1,500 students must hit 2% of their population in a 14 day period.

The state requires students who test positive during a Test to Stay event to isolate at home, even if they are fully vaccinated. That doesn’t apply to the elementary kids at either school, anyway, because those under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

One other school, Grand County High School, has had enough spread of the coronavirus to prompt the district there in southern Utah to cancel classes and extracurricular activities for a week earlier this month. The school didn’t reach the official threshold, but said with 10 staff members and eight students with COVID-19, it wasn’t feasible to continue to stay open.

The district said, in part, that it couldn’t find enough substitute teachers to keep things running.

Schools have been instructed not to close down this year, though, and shift to online learning with an outbreak. Instead, they are supposed to use the Test to Stay protocol to continue operating in person.

Part of the challenge this year — which also has contributed to more spread of the virus in the classroom — is that the Legislature has banned school districts from instituting their own mask mandates. Those can only come from county health departments and must be signed off on by county governments. So far, few of those efforts have succeeded.

So far this school year, there have been roughly 3,700 cases of the coronavirus reported among teachers and staff. The state didn’t hit that same level during the 2020-2021 school year, when masks were required in K-12 schools, until midway through October.

There was an outbreak reported at a charter school earlier last year compared to this year — at the start of September — but the threshold was lower, at 15 reported cases before classrooms were instructed to close. That was American Preparatory Academy’s Draper 1 campus.

The state’s dashboard tends to lag in showing how many cases are at each school, though an update is in the works. The next closest to an outbreak appears to be Cedar Valley High in Alpine School District, which has 34 active cases.

The Utah Department of Health recommends looking at each district’s data, for now, to get an accurate count for how many students and staff have COVID-19 in a school.

— Tribune reporter Erin Alberty contributed to this story.