In mid-August, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) issued new metrics to Colorado’s private and public schools to support in-person learning and minimize classroom quarantines.
One of the metrics issued by the CDPHE at the county level was: “Counties with a 70% or higher vaccination rate of people 12 and older with at least one COVID-19 vaccine.”
At a Sept. 8 board of education meeting, Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) Superintendent Rob Stein, explained that part of the district’s back-to-school plans was to maintain universal face masks to improve the in-school learning experience with less disruption from absences, quarantines and program cancellations.
It was announced that, while nine cases of COVID-19 exposure have occured within RFSD schools since the beginning of this school year, only one of those was determined to be a case of close contact that required the quarantine of a group of 13 students considered high-risk. The other eight cases did not require quarantining.
Compared to last school year’s 131 absences per day due to quarantines, RFSD is currently at four per day.
A universal face mask policy, where all are required to wear face masks, is not popular with all parents in the district, evidenced by a handful of community members who spoke during the meeting’s public comment period. Stein addressed the policy and said, “I realize that it is controversial in our community to be wearing masks, but I’m an educator and I want to see kids in school. We’re keeping kids in school through these measures.”
Stein explained how they met the challenge of gathering public health department statistics for a district that includes three counties – Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin – to arrive at a formula for tracking the 70% vaccination rate goal.
The goal is for students, teachers, food service and custodial staff in the district’s high schools to be at a 70% vaccination rate.
The first task, Stein explained, was to answer a few basic questions, including, “As a technical question, or a methodological question, how to define our community, as they called it, and how do we define our 70%?”
Stein said he defined “community” as the towns and surrounding areas of Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Basalt. However, there is no vaccination data at the town level, only at the county level. Stein said the district asked local health departments for that information but it was not possible. “They just don’t have data that slices that way.”
They then defined the community as the RFSD district, as a whole, which presented the next challenge – determining the ratio of student enrollment within the three counties that RFSD serves.
The district worked with epidemiologists and statisticians from local public health departments, and, as Stein explained, “we established a sort of a multiplier based on the ratio of enrollment in our three counties.”
That multiplier yielded percentages for RFSD students residing in each county, which rounded to 75% in Garfield County, 20% in Eagle and 5% in Pitkin counties.
At the Sept. 8 meeting, Stein said 66% of the population eligible to receive the vaccine is vaccinated within the school district. Stein said RFSD has been monitoring those numbers since Aug. 10, when the vaccination rate was 62%.
Stein shared that vaccination rates are higher in Eagle County (at 79%) and Pitkin (just over 70%). At the same time, Garfield inches up slowly each day, hovering around the mid-60s range.
Stein explained, “It’s going to take a higher vaccination rate in Garfield County before we average out.” He added, “We’re getting there, but we’re not there yet.”
Stein said CDPHE put out school guidance explaining, “You can minimize quarantines if you get 70% of a community or a school vaccinated.That has a lot to do with informing our masking and other practices because we want to avoid quarantines; we want to avoid student absences from school.”
Another challenge Stein cited was, “It’s mostly about getting the data so we can get accurate numbers.” He said parents could help by submitting their child’s proof of vaccination information to their school.
For CDPHE vaccination data, visit: bit.ly/COvaccines
For Garfield County vaccination data, visit: bit.ly/GarCovaccines