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Bonneville Joint School District 93 moved to the red phase of the district’s COVID-19 response plan and will require students and staff to wear masks starting Monday.

Bonneville Joint School District 93 is moving to the red phase of its COVID-19 response plan, requiring students and staff to wear masks starting Monday.

The district announced Thursday in its weekly update sent to parents that the district has passed the threshold of 50 new COVID-19 cases within a week to enter the red or high-risk phase of its plan. The district’s current weekly average of new cases is at 53.

“If we don’t do all we can now to stop and slow the spread of COVID in our schools, then we won’t be able to keep our schools open,” said district Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme in a district YouTube video.

In addition to masking requirements when physical distancing is not possible, staff and students with unexplained symptoms of COVID-19 at school will be sent home under the red phase of the plan. They may return with a negative COVID-19 test or 24 hours after symptoms end.

Families will be notified when their children are exposed to a positive case. Students who do not have current immunity or were not wearing masks when they were exposed to a positive case will be required to quarantine.

Students without immunity may return to school after taking a COVID-19 test no sooner than five days after the date of exposure and after receiving a negative test result. Students who do not receive a negative test result will be excluded from school for two weeks from the date of their most recent exposure.

Non-Idaho High School Activities Association activities such as student clubs that aren’t athletics, speech and drama or performing arts will not be permitted without approval of the District Safety Committee.

Woolstenhulme said Friday that the district has had roughly three times more COVID-19 infections than it did last year at this time. Some teachers are having to cover for their coworkers due to the lack of substitute teachers available. The district also is facing staffing issues with child nutrition and custodial staffing.

“The biggest difference this year is there’s a higher level of transmission in our schools than we saw last year,” he said. “We’re seeing cases where kids are most likely catching COVID at school where last year it was mostly from contact with family members.”

The district is asking parents who oppose their children wearing masks to consider other safety rules such as the dress code, Woolstenhulme said in the video. He also compared not allowing students that are 18 to bring tobacco to campus because it would harm others.

He said he expects the district to be in the red phase for at least two weeks based on how it collects case data. While the district appears to have had case numbers drop to less than 20 weekly reported cases on Thursday, he said that’s not a reflection of the true status of COVID-19 transmission because cases are typically reported six days after infection.

The yellow phase has a threshold of 20 to 49 new cases within a week. Masks are not required in this phase and students and staff without immunity exposed to an infection are asked to voluntarily quarantine for seven days.

Non-immune staff and students with unexplained symptoms of COVID-19 will be sent home but may return with a negative COVID-19 test. Contact tracing is conducted in the yellow phase and families will be notified of exposures.

“We’re not looking at where we are today, but where we were a week ago as our most likely indicator of what the infection rate is this week,” Woolstenhulme said. “We’ll just take that overall look over the next two weeks to see if our rates have actually declined into the yellow phase.”

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