Students in schools all across the borough will be attending classes in person starting Tuesday, except maybe in Nanwalek, where issues other than Covid-19 have kept students at home.
During Thursday morning’s Covid Brief with Kathleen Gustafson, school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff said cases in the Central Peninsula had gotten low enough that students could start attending classes in person, but added that water issues may still affect students in the South Kachemak Bay community.
“We did have some issues this week in Nanwalek with water, so those students have been a hundred percent remote learning. And I'm hoping that they'll be back in school as well,” Erkeneff said. “That's for health and safety in the school building.”
As Central Peninsula schools gear up to open, Erkeneff said they’re able to learn from the experiences of schools such as the ones in Homer that opened on schedule.
“They've been sharing back and forth for the principals who opened with all the new protocols. So, Southern Peninsula Homer area opened school for students, so they've been giving some tips to the principals who haven't yet welcomed students back completely into their buildings,” Erkeneff said. “But they've also been sharing what's it like when you doing the a hundred percent remote with just the little, we call them the littles, but the pre K and kindergarten teachers in your buildings.”
School meals are available to any students who are learning at home, but the ordering system is a bit convoluted in its timing. Erkeneff explains.
“All across the peninsula we've been having lunches, the Get It and Go lunches, for anybody who's a hundred percent remote. Everybody needs to make their order on the Friday before the upcoming week by noon,” she said. “So anyone in the Homer area that wants their Get It and Go meals, they need to call by noon on Friday, and then they'll do a pickup for their weekly meals on Wednesday.”
Erkeneff urged parents to take care during the long Labor Day weekend so that students may continue attending classes at school.
“It's easy to open schools. It's harder to keep them open,” Erkeneff said. “You're doing a great job down in the Homer area, but any one school at any time, if we have an outbreak, could close that school and our numbers could jump. So we are still living in a pandemic. We're doing great job on the Kenai, but that doesn't mean to let down our guard about what we need to do, and everybody needs to do.”
South Peninsula Hospital’s Derotha Ferraro says the lower case count may result in a loosening of rules surrounding in-patient visitations.
“So right now, our visitation was very tight and that was based on some of the earlier summer numbers and COVID activity. And so we were at just one visitor per stay. So if you came and you were hospitalized for three or four days, you were only allowed one person that same person to visit you,” Ferraro said. “If this low transmission, if, if this continues, we are looking at, relaxing that a little bit, because if there's no activity in the community, then we might be able to relax those guidelines.”
As of Wednesday, there had been 116 positive cases on the Southern Kenai Peninsula. Alaska Public Health Nurse Lorne Carrol broke down the numbers.
“You know, out of those 116, about 15 or 16 percent are thought to be community acquired. But about 45 percent are thought to be secondary transmission. And what we mean by secondary transmission is, is mostly likely household or close contact like that. And only about 2.5 percent of the 116 cases are thought to be related to travel. So that's just kind of a breakdown of what we think we're seeing on the Southern Kenai Peninsula.”
Nurse Carrol also addressed the physics of mask-wearing, and how they can effectively hinder coronavirus transmission. He contrasted the coronavirus with another respiratory disease, tuberculosis.
“And the main difference between those two is a COVID-19 and cold viruses aren't thought to be airborne, but they're transmitted through respiratory droplets in the air. So the virus particles themselves are within larger respiratory droplets as you breathe or sing, or when you're running. And the thing about these large respiratory droplets that contain COVID viruses is that they drop out of the air, most of them within four feet of the individual. And then if you have a mask on, that mask is thought to catch even more of those. And that's how a transmission is prevented,” he said. “Now, micro-bacteria and bacteria related to tuberculosis are a little different. Those are thought to be airborne. So the particles are so small, they can float around in the air and be maintained in the airspace for quite a long time. So the mode of transmission is different and a mask on the individuals is thought to be helpful for sure.”
Also on the Covid Brief, City of Homer spokesperson Jenny Carrol reminded listeners that three new cash relief programs, benefiting nonprofits, healthcare and social service organizations, will join the existing S-BERG, or small business economic relief grant program.