NAMPA — Southwest District Health on Wednesday moved Canyon County to an improved category on its COVID-19 risk assessment tool.
The county, previously in the red category — the most severe in terms of community transmission — is now in the second-highest risk level of orange.
The switch prompted the Nampa School District to prepare to move to a hybrid learning model on Sept. 21. So far this school year, classes have been held only online.
“We believe we are now at a place where we can provide a safe environment for staff and students,” according to a district letter to parents Wednesday.
The health district’s red category means there are more than five new daily cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 people. The orange category means there are 2.5 to 5 new daily cases per 10,000 people. In the orange category, the health district continues to recommend the use of face masks as well as limited or staggered use of school buildings.
As of Sept. 4, nine students and two school employees in Canyon County had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Southwest District Health, which did not specify the schools where the cases broke out.
Of Southwest District Health’s six counties, Payette County was the only one to remain in the red category Wednesday.
Idaho saw 17 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, the state’s highest daily death toll on record. Of those, seven were in Ada County and three were in Canyon County.
The previous deadliest day reported by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare was July 29, when 13 deaths were reported statewide.
Last week, the Nampa School District’s board of trustees decided to keep schools online, but gave Superintendent Paula Kellerer the power to reopen schools with hybrid learning once Southwest District Health took Canyon County out of the highest risk level.
Southwest District Health determines the risk level for its counties every week. According to the letter, if Southwest District Health puts Canyon County back into the highest risk level at its Sept. 16 meeting, that could delay schools reopening.
The school district’s hybrid model will see students return to in-person instruction two days a week, and will continue online education the other three days of the week. Students will alternate days of in-class learning in groups separated alphabetically. This is a new form of instruction the Nampa School District has not used before.
“Although staff have had some training, you, your student and our staff will be learning together,” the letter read.
Face masks will be required for students and staff inside the schools, unless an individual has a medical exception. The district has also implemented plans to encourage physical distancing and sanitize surfaces.
The district suggested that parents who are uncomfortable with their children returning to the classroom speak to their teachers or school principal. The Nampa School District also has a virtual learning option available, called the Nampa Online Virtual Academy.