An outbreak of COVID-19 — traced to a party last week mostly attended by Summit High School students — grew to 43 student cases as of Monday. And most of those students are showing varying degrees of symptoms, according to a letter to families from Michael McDonald, Summit principal.
As a result, the closure of in-person classes at the west Bend high school have been extended through Friday, meaning Summit students will spend at least a week and a half learning from home.
Bend-La Pine Schools leaders have asked Deschutes County Health Services staff to investigate whether these 40-plus cases have spread to local businesses or families, said Julianne Repman, director of safety and communications for the school district.
But for now, school district and health department contact tracers haven’t found any evidence that the Summit High outbreak was spread inside the school last week, Repman said.
“So far, there’s no connection to the classroom,” she told The Bulletin on Monday. “The links so far are primary and secondary cases tied to the party — people who were at the party, or students who were with students from the party.”
No teachers or school staff at Summit High School have tested positive yet, Repman said. Health privacy laws prevent the district from knowing of specific cases involving nonstudents or nonstaff, even if connected to the party, she said.
Contact tracers have identified one positive case each at Bend and Skyline high schools, from students who attended the party, Repman said. But neither of those schools have multiple-case outbreaks, she noted.
“That’s in line with what we were hearing, that the majority of students (at the party) appeared to have been attending Summit High,” Repman said.
Bend-La Pine created contingency plans in case of a situation like the Summit outbreak, Repman said. But they had to use them quicker than anticipated. In-person high school began on Feb. 8.
“Since last March, we’ve had plans in place for mitigation of classroom closures, school closures,” she said. “Clearly, we didn’t expect it to be this fast and this impactful from one party.”
To prevent the potential spread of the virus, the school will return to distance learning through Friday, with an expected return to in-person classes and activities Feb. 22, according to a Saturday night email from McDonald. That will allow the equivalent of a 10-day quarantine from the last time students were in the school building with academics or activities, he wrote.
Students who did not attend the party or have contact with those who did, and who have no symptoms, are considered low risk for COVID-19 exposure, McDonald wrote. But county health officials encouraged anyone who may have been in contact with others who were exposed or who live with elderly or medically fragile family members to consider isolating from those family members and assume the youth or adult may be contagious.
In preparation for the eventual return of in-person classes, school district staff has completed a deep -cleaning of classrooms and common areas in the school and left air scrubbers on overnight.
McDonald said he has heard expressions of frustration, anger and sadness from students, staff and families in regards to the outbreak.
“I think many folks are feeling the way we are: frustrated and exasperated but also wanting to make sure whatever we do in the future is going to be safe and keep us going,” he told The Bulletin Monday.
McDonald said he hopes the Summit community will learn from this outbreak, and staff will continue to remind students of proper COVID-19 protocol once students return to in-person class.
“I think we’re going to just redouble our efforts, and make sure that kids are doing the safe thing and the smart thing when they’re not at school,” he said.