Routt County schools weathering omicron surge |

Routt County schools weathering omicron surge

The omicron variant is putting pressure on Routt County’s schools with hundreds of new cases among student and staff, but so far, the schools have managed to stay open.

Steamboat Springs Superintendent Brad Meeks said Monday, Jan. 10, that there were about 150 students who tested positive for COVID-19 last week, which amounts to about 5% of all students in the district. An additional 20 staff members got COVID last week, as well.

“We were able to keep school going,” Meeks said. “There were a couple of days I wasn’t quite sure we were going to be able to do that.”

A return to school has led to increase in COVID cases locally throughout the pandemic, including last fall when the delta variant was starting to surge. In the past two weeks, the case incidence rate of school-aged children has been about 60% higher than it was for the rest of Routt County, a trend that was seen in the fall, as well.

The incidence rate among school-age children is higher than the rate for the rest of Routt County residents. On Tuesday, Jan. 11, the rate for school aged children was 1,679 cases per 100,000 residents. For everyone else, the rate was 1,026 per 100,000.
Routt County Public Health Department/Courtesy graphic

None of the local districts are discussing shifting to remote or hybrid schedules, but each day does present new challenges.

Meeks said the district is starting to have daily meetings with the principals at each school to ensure they have enough coverage for the next day. If one of their schools does need to shift to remote learning, Meeks said he hopes to be able to communicate that to parents the afternoon before.

Rim Watson, superintendent at the South Routt School District, said he gets a substitute count for the day every morning around 6:30 a.m., and that’s when he knows if they have enough staff to have school.

“We’ve been fortunate,” Watson said. “We’ve had some absences, but we’ve been able to cover them.”

That coverage has been boosted by South Routt’s effort to find more substitute teachers, which Watson said has taken more than simply posting an open position. Instead, school officials have been reaching out to potential subs and being flexible about how much and when the subs would work.

“A lot of people are only willing to sub certain days, certain places, that kind of thing,” Watson said. “We’ll work with you completely. If you just give us one day a week, we’ll still take it.”

In Hayden, Superintendent Christy Sinner said the schools don’t currently have any staff out because of COVID. When they do, Sinner and other administrators have been stepping in to teach as needed, and some teachers are helping cover for absent peers during their planning time.

The updated quarantine guidelines have helped allow students and staff to return to school sooner after testing positive or having an exposure. However, it has been somewhat tricky when the guidelines allow students back to school if the student wears a mask because masks are not required in Hayden.

“Guidelines are clear now that we have them,” Sinner said. “It’s just the due diligence of making sure everything stays in place.”

Meeks and Watson both said they are looking toward the end of this month, when some public health experts have predicted COVID cases may level off.

“We’re hopeful that once we get to the first part of February, … we can get back to more of a normal feeling,” Meeks said.

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