Challis High School vocational education teacher Tom Coates said he likes to to run his welding class like a professional workshop, and right now the coronavirus is cutting into his workforce.

“I’m missing a lot of welders that are normally here,” Coates said last week. That has affected his advanced welding class’s ability to complete projects.

A little more than a week after school started Aug. 26, Custer County was moved to the moderate-risk category for the spread of the virus because of an increase in the number of in active cases.

Coates has had a fluctuating number of students in his shop and classroom because some of the confirmed cases forced students to quarantine at home.

Coates said all of his freshman students recently had to quarantine after several of them were exposed to someone with the virus.

Speaking after the county returned to minimal-risk status Sept. 24, Superintendent Lani Rembelski said three cases of the virus were confirmed within the district last week. She declined to give more information on the active cases, including whether they are staff members or students or how they contracted the virus. Rembelski said school staff followed procedures outlined in the district’s reopening plan and sent home all students and staff who had contact with the patients considered active.

While having students study from home has affected his ability to teach welding hands-on, Coates said he still makes sure his students learn that technical education isn’t just about spending time in the shop. He also teaches students how to run a business and be a professional, which is something any teacher can broadcast these days. Coates posts his lectures online and uploads assignments for his students at home to complete, and because his class is an elective, he said students can pick up where they left off in the shop whenever they get the opportunity.

“Just as long as they finish and turn in their projects,” Coates said.

Coates expects his classroom count will return to normal sometime in October. This is good, he said, because there’s a list of projects to complete that isn’t getting shorter.

Currently the advanced welding class is putting together a go-kart. But before that Coates said his students welded all the metal used on the class floats in the homecoming parade. That was an important assignment, Coates said, because he not only had his students build the metal frames used on the floats, but also had the welders take them apart.

“They need to know how to scrap metal,” Coates said, “for salvage.”

After the go-kart, Coates said his students will most likely move on to community projects, such as finishing a project to cut out numbered, steel signs for the Challis Golf Course and finishing the Zamboni they started last school year for the Challis skating pond.

The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t affected how Coates runs classes on a day-to-day basis. Already a self-described germaphobe, Coates said students are used to a lot of cleanliness rules in the shop. As for face coverings in the classroom, Coates said his welders already use hoods and welding masks, so they don’t mind masks.