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The Blaine County School District kicked off its winter break this week, with students out of school from Dec. 21 until Monday, Jan. 4.

For some families, winter break may mean out-of-town travel—and, with the risks of travel in mind, the district is preparing for a potential bump in COVID-19 cases or quarantines when school resumes.

“We’re always prepared for any kind of increase to our system,” Superintendent Fritz Peters said. “If we have to, we’ll shift the school into an online learning platform only if [the district] starts to show an excessive number [of cases or quarantines].”

The district had similarly expected a bump in COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving, Peters noted. But, to the administration’s surprise, the number of cases in the district remained steady in the weeks following the holiday, even decreasing slightly in mid-December.

“It really didn’t materialize as much as we thought it would,” Peters said. “A good solid 10 to 14 days after Thanksgiving, we were looking for a bump. But that’s actually when our numbers settled down a little bit.”

There were seven active cases of COVID-19 among students in the Blaine County School District as of Thursday, Dec. 17, the most recent data available on the district’s coronavirus dashboard, with cases at Hemingway STEAM School, Alturas Elementary, Wood River Middle School and Wood River High School. Across the district, 125 students and eight staff members were in quarantine, working and learning from home.

The district recommends that any student or staff member who travels out of state for the holidays quarantine for two weeks after returning home, Peters said.

“But we don’t really have a lot of ability to oversee that,” he said. “We don’t have the staff or the ability to check every family that traveled.”

The district also encourages any student or staff member who has COVID-19 symptoms, or who lives with a person experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, to quarantine, Peters said.

Whether the district sees a significant rise in cases and quarantines after winter break will likely play a role in a decision by the district’s board of trustees in January on whether to return to fully in-person learning in February; a plan to resume full-time in-person instruction, starting at the elementary level, will be presented to the board at its regular January meeting.

“If we see a bump after Christmas and see a lot of quarantining, that will probably lead us to the decision where we can’t go to in-person learning,” Peters said. “There’s just no predictability there. Every day is different.”

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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