BOISE — Rising COVID-19 case numbers forced Central District Health to push all Ada County school districts into the red category of school reopening on Tuesday, a change that calls for fully remote classes.
School reopening categories are tied to average daily case rates per 100,000 population over a 14-day period. For Ada County, if there are 20 or more COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population, that means schools will be in the red zone. As of Tuesday, the average case rate in Ada County was 22.16 per 100,000 population.
Kim Link, the communicable disease control manager for Central District Health, said while ICU hospitalizations remained down, the number of people going to Treasure Valley hospitals for COVID-19 was up.
Link said 821 COVID-19 cases had been counted in Ada County in the week of Oct. 4, a 22% increase from the week before. And the health district has been helping many Ada County schools with COVID-19 related issues, 35 in the past week. Twenty-five percent of the new cases Central District Health was counting came from community spread, which means an unknown source in the Treasure Valley infected the person.
Amidst the rising case rates, Central District Health Director Russ Duke said the board would have a plan ready by Oct. 20 for people to see their loved ones in long-term care facilities.
Duke said a modification to current orders, similar to how certain Ada County bars were allowed to open last month, could be how the health district navigates visitation.
Central District Health officials, recognizing the importance of having children in schools, is offering support to schools trying to maintain some level of in-person instruction.
“We recognize that many schools and districts have some excellent plans in place that they are consistently following to keep kids in school,” Central District Health Director Russ Duke said. “While we are seeing cases within our schools and are working closely with those impacted, fortunately, at this time, we are not seeing much school transmission, where people are becoming infected from others in the classroom environment.”
Duke said Central District Health believed pausing sports was the best call for all schools, from elementary to university.
“We’re seeing transmission more frequently with extracurricular activities or sports,” Duke said during Tuesday night’s meeting. “We are continuing to monitor within our recommendation that while in Category 3 that extracurricular activities be paused.”
Link said Central District Health had seen a “large number” of quarantines and potential COVID-19 exposures arise from athletic activities, but not nearly as many in the school setting proper.
Duke said that Central District Health recommended that sports be paused from elementary school through the university level. School districts are still looking to have sports going forward, however.
The Boise School District is working closely with Central District Health and plans to move forward in offering athletics.
“We will plan, as of today, to have our soccer teams travel to North Idaho and compete in the State Soccer Tournaments,” according to district spokesman Dan Hollar on Tuesday. “Coaches and players are following safety protocols which has allowed us to continue with practices and competitions.”
West Ada School District officials did not return a request for comment on the district’s sports plan.
Boise, Elmore and Valley counties, also in Central District Health, are all in the yellow category of school reopening, which recommends hybrid in-person and online learning.
Idaho Press reporter John Wustrow contributed.